COUNTRIES such as Nigeria, Chad and Rwanda are doing more to combat people trafficking than Cyprus, according to the latest US Trafficking in Persons (TIP) report.
The latest report has Cyprus dropping from being a Tier 2 country to being on the Tier 2 ‘watch list’, a step back from the previous year.
Tier 2 countries are those making an effort, Tier 1 countries, those who are meeting the minimum standards include most western countries.
Tier 3 are those who make no effort at all, which according to the report, include Cuba, Venezuela, Saudi Arabia and the US-deemed ‘axis of evil’, Iran, North Korea and Syria.
There are 32 countries, including Cyprus on the Tier 2 ‘watch list’ this year including China, Egypt Israel and India.
“Cyprus has been placed on Tier 2 Watch List because of its failure to show evidence of increasing efforts to address its serious trafficking for sexual exploitation problem,” said the report.
It said that while there were seven convictions using prostitution and sexual exploitation laws, the government failed to utilise its anti-trafficking legislation during the 2005 reporting period.
“The government did not proactively implement its National Action Plan, nor did it formally open a shelter for victims of trafficking. The government slightly decreased the number of "artiste" visas issued in 2005, but failed to fulfil its commitment to abolish this visa category,” said the report.
It added that the government should assign a clear political priority to fighting trafficking immediately. It should start prosecuting trafficking crimes. As promised in the National Action Plan, the government should significantly reduce the number of "artiste" visas and abolish this visa category to prevent further exploitation of trafficking victims in Cyprus.
It should produce and launch a national public awareness campaign to reduce demand for trafficking victims in Cyprus. The Cypriot Government should complete, proactively implement, and distribute its standardised handbook for screening and referral of victims and ensure its wide distribution to all foreign workers entering Cyprus.
It also said that in 2005, the government of Cyprus failed to sustain the anti-trafficking law enforcement momentum started in the previous year.
According to the US, the government finalised its proposed laws on trafficking but had not yet introduced them to parliament. It said that in 2005, Cypriot police arrested an increased number of traffickers. “While the government convicted seven suspects on charges related to prostitution, it was unable to confirm whether a trafficking element was involved,” the report said.
“The government of Cyprus did not demonstrate tangible progress in providing protection and assistance to victims of trafficking in 2005. It fell short of targets established by the government’s own National Action Plan. Although the government procured funding, obtained permits and signed a lease for a shelter for trafficking victims, it failed to open it during the reporting period,” the report said.
Instead the anti-trafficking unit informally referred victims to an NGO shelter in Limassol, but the government did not establish a formalised screening and referral process.
“The government’s Welfare Services provided financial aid, counselling and temporary shelter to 36 victims for up to three weeks in subsidised homes for the elderly. Although the planned 2004 standardised internal guidelines on victim identification and referral were completed and sent to all ministries for final review, they have yet to be printed or distributed.
“The government cooperated with NGOs in preparing the new immigration legislation and handbook. During the reporting period, the police identified 55 victims of trafficking, 42 of whom testified or pressed charges against their traffickers. Identified victims were offered legal alternatives to their removal and were allowed to remain in the country in order to testify. In the absence of a formal screening process, some unidentified victims continued to be at risk of deportation,” said the report.
The Government of Cyprus made some “limited progress” in implementing prevention elements of its National Action Plan in 2005. The government printed 60,000 trafficking prevention leaflets in four languages for those entering Cyprus on "artiste" visas, and began distributing these at immigration police offices and at airports.
“Although the government funded a promised demand oriented public awareness campaign, it has yet to conduct any large scale campaigns to generate public awareness about the role customers play in contributing to trafficking in Cyprus,” said the report.
The government drafted a pamphlet in Greek for all foreign workers entering Cyprus on other work visas, but has yet to print or distribute it. It issued 4,000 new "artiste" visas in 2005, a 13 per cent decrease from the previous year.
Embassy officials yesterday defended the report saying it was not politically motivated. They said the reports are mandated for Congress to see in what kind of countries American aid is being spent. The question for Cyprus was: “Is the government doing everything possible”. The answer according to the island’s placing is ‘no’. “But there is reason to believe the government wants to do the right thing,” said one embassy official.
North has no real laws against human trafficking
THE REPORT said the area administered by Turkish Cypriots was also a destination for women trafficked from Eastern and Central Europe for the purpose of sexual exploitation.
“Reportedly, men were trafficked to work in the construction industry,” it said.
“There are continued indications that it is also used as a transit point for persons trafficked into forced labour into the EU.”
According to the report, the north does not have a law that specifically prohibits trafficking in persons and in 2005, all potential trafficking cases were tried on the charge of "living off the earnings of prostitution”.
“Persons convicted under this law can receive a maximum sentence of two years in prison. This is not commensurate with the penalties for other similar crimes in the area administered by Turkish Cypriots, such as rape,” it said.
Police arrested 25 suspects, prosecuted 16 cases and convicted nine suspects, all of whom paid minor fines.
In 2005, 1,031 “artiste visas” were issued to women working in 46 nightclubs, and as of January 2006, 378 foreign women were working in this area.
In 2005, immigration police repatriated 150 women who wished to end their nightclub contracts.
“Police corruption remained a problem; in May 2005, two police officers were questioned on suspicion of involvement in a false visa ring but no arrests were made,” the report said.
In 2006, Turkish Cypriots established an anti-trafficking hotline, but have not publicised it.
“Turkish Cypriots should take proactive steps to train law enforcement and other front-line responders on victim identification techniques, including the key difference between trafficking and smuggling and exploitation.”