Cyprus slides on trafficking
THE INTERIOR ministry yesterday expressed “disappointment” over the US State Department’s damning human trafficking report on Cyprus, saying it hadn’t taken efforts by the government into account.
The Department’s 2011 report, published yesterday, said the government failed to implement its national action plan (NAP) to combat human trafficking; failed to impose exemplary punishments on offenders and failed to protect the victims.
The state was also blasted for failing to officially warn about the realities of forced prostitution, “inherent to the island’s sex industry”.
It said Cyprus took some initial steps to address the issue but “failed to demonstrate evidence of increasing efforts”. The island is on the Department’s Tier 2 Watch List.
This means that the absolute number of victims of severe forms of trafficking in Cyprus is either very significant or on the rise, while there is failure to provide evidence of efforts to combat it.
However, Cyprus’ placement also indicates that the island has committed to take additional steps over the next year, the report said.
In a statement, the interior ministry said even though the report recognised Cyprus’ efforts to combat trafficking, it effectively cancelled that out by placing the island on the Tier 2 Watch List for the second year running.
It said the report didn’t take into account the increase in convictions, two of which led to “significant punishments”, nor did it recognise sincere efforts to educate the public with seminars and campaigns.
It also said the report reached conclusions based mainly on information provided by NGOs, without providing convincing arguments that an in-depth investigation had been carried out to confirm the information.
“Combating human trafficking remains one our priorities and we feel that even though there is a lot yet to be done, significant steps have been taken, at least in the past few years,” said the ministry.
The report said punishment of trafficking offenders in 2010 was inadequate. “Furthermore, the government did not convict or sentence any officials complicit in trafficking in Cyprus...” the report said, adding that despite significant funding, implementation of the NAP was slow.
During the reporting period, the government investigated 29 suspected cases of trafficking, an increase from 17 suspected trafficking cases in 2009. Although there were 41 ongoing trafficking prosecutions at the end of 2009, the government secured convictions in only four cases, convicting three trafficking offenders in 2010 and one in 2011. “Punishments for these offenders were woefully inadequate,” said the report.
One offender was sentenced to six months, another to 12 months, and the two others to nine months each. In the previous year, 10 traffickers were convicted.
Cyprus’ failure to protect trafficking victims was also underlined. Over the year in question, the government identified 17 victims of forced labour, 24 sex trafficking victims, and two victims subjected to both labour and commercial sexual exploitation.
“The government encouraged victims to participate in investigations of trafficking cases...however, cabaret owners and agents reportedly used attorneys to bribe potential witnesses and pressured women to withdraw complaints or cease cooperation with law enforcement officials.”
The government’s shelter for victims cared for 26 trafficking victims in 2010, compared with 47 in 2009, while it provided rent subsidy and a monthly allowance to victims who wanted to stay in private flats or hotels.
Even though the report credited the government with implementing some awareness activities, it said it failed to launch any campaign to raise awareness among Greek Cypriot men about how forced prostitution is a serious crime and a human rights abuse.
It also said the controversial “artiste permits” that were abolished in 2008 were replaced with other visas or work permit categories, “which traffickers have managed to exploit”
The State Department called on Cyprus to undertake greater measures to prosecute, convict and sentence trafficking offenders, by imposing similar punishments as those of other serious crimes, such as rape.
IN THE NORTH ‘RESCUE’ MEANS ‘DEPORTATION’
THE OCCUPIED areas were also blasted in the report, which claimed police in the north were often accused of being involved in trafficking.
It said the problem occurred mainly in nightclubs and pubs, where women under “hostess” or “barmaid” work permits were forced into sex.
“Turkish Cypriot authorities continue to deny that trafficking is a significant problem in the area, posing a serious challenge to assuring any protection for women from trafficking or the prosecution of their traffickers,” said the report. “Local observers continue to report a significant trafficking problem with foreign women being deprived of their freedom in nightclubs. Despite this, Turkish Cypriot authorities identified no trafficking victims during the reporting period.”
Even though an anti-trafficking “bill” was drafted in the north in 2007, the report said it had yet to make any progress.
“Deportation is the most common form of “rescue” the authorities use for women who complain about their employment at nightclubs and ask for help from the local police,” said the police.
Although prostitution is illegal in the north, nightclub employees are required to submit to weekly health checks for sexually-transmitted infection screening, “suggesting tacit approval by the authorities of the prostitution industry”.
Authorities in 2009 reported issuing 961 “hostess” work permits, including renewals, and 14 “barmaid” permits during the previous reporting period.
WHERE THE VICTIMS COME FROM
IN 2011, Cyprus reported trafficking victims from Russia, Romania, Morocco, the Philippines, Vietnam, China, the Dominican Republic, Colombia, Egypt, India, Nepal, Cameroon, Ukraine and Estonia – among others. Victims from Greece and the UK were also reported.
Cabarets, bars, pubs and massage parlours disguised as private apartments were named as the main “sex industry outlets” where sex trafficking occurs in Cyprus.
“Groups vulnerable to forced labour include domestic workers from Vietnam, as well as asylum seekers, foreign migrants, and EU citizens from Romania and Bulgaria working in the construction and agricultural sectors,” said the department, adding: “NGOs continue to report that Roma children, as well as children of migrants and asylum seekers, remain especially vulnerable to prostitution and other forms of trafficking.”
Local authorities and NGOs noted an increase in street prostitution involving women from Romania, China, Vietnam and the Philippines in 2010.SPECIFIC CASES
1. THE report said the government did not demonstrate adequate follow-up on a large forced labour case from November 2009, when police arrested and charged three suspects for subjecting 95 Romanians to forced labour, mostly in the construction sector; the ringleader reportedly used debt bondage and hired enforcers to control the victims who were forced to live in converted shipping containers in an isolated industrial area near Nicosia. “The government has yet to begin prosecution in this case; all suspects continue to be free on bail. Despite a significant anti-trafficking budget, the government failed to fulfil its pledges to devote additional resources to its five-member specialized anti-trafficking unit.”
2. IN March 2011, police arrested the assistant chief of the Aliens and Immigration Unit for his suspected involvement in trafficking. “This unit has direct responsibility for the oversight and inspection of all bars, cabarets, and other commercial sex establishments in Cyprus.” it said NGOs had repeatedly reported concerns about this officer and asked for his transfer. This official, however, was released on bail a short time after his arrest. Also during the reporting period, the government reported it prosecuted a member of the police force for involvement in trafficking-related corruption. However the government has yet to produce a conviction or criminal punishment of an official complicit in trafficking.
3. DURING the reporting period, NGOs alleged that the Aliens and Immigration Unit, acting under an order by the Attorney-general, attempted to remove and deport an Indian national after she was identified as a trafficking victim. The government denied these allegations. This victim reportedly had been subjected to gang rape, forced prostitution, and forced labour and subsequently became pregnant in 2010.
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