NICOSIA — A report from the Council of Europe's Group of Experts on Action against Trafficking in Human Beings (GRETA) found Cyprus a key destination for smugglers especially exploiting women for sex, forced marriages and labor, with a low conviction rate.
GRETA expressed concern over Cyprus’ failure to grant free legal aid and expertise to trafficking victims during criminal proceedings but lauded the government for sharply increasing penalties for human trafficking and criminalizing the use of victims for sex.
It also welcomed the setting up of a facility that makes it possible to limit the number of interviews that child abuse victims must undergo.
But the report noted that from 2015-19, no legal aid was provided to trafficking victims in Cyprus. Although victims can seek financial compensation and damages through criminal or civil proceedings, the authors found no examples of a criminal court granting such compensation in human trafficking cases.
The GRETA report urges the government of Cyprus to set up a victim support fund and to ensure convicted perpetrators compensate victims.
The authors of the report also urged Cypriot authorities to step up human trafficking investigations given the low conviction rate – especially in labor exploitation cases. According to the report, police submitted 58 trafficking cases for prosecution during 2015-18but only nine cases resulted in final convictions.
The report recommendations more training for prosecutors and judges so human trafficking charges aren’t downgraded to offenses that carry lighter penalties and make victims ineligible for aid and compensation.
GRETA also said asylum-seekers who are presumed to be trafficking victims may be exposed to sexual or other exploitation because they receive a low allowance and are expected to find somewhere to live.
The group said over the four-year review period, 190 out of 801 presumed trafficking victims, mostly women, were formally identified as such.
The main form of exploitation cited in the report was sex followed by forced marriage, labor and a combination of sex and labor. Almost all male victims were trafficked for labor exploitation. There were seven child trafficking victims.
The evaluation concluded that Cyprus continues to be primarily a country of destination for trafficked persons although the government established a national referral mechanism in 2016 and a new plan for 2019-2021 was adopted in September, 2019.
It said that according to the national plan, initial information on victims’ rights should be provided by the social welfare services, which act as the first point of contact with victims, The Cyprus Mail reported.
“However, the procedure is reportedly not always followed. GRETA considers that the Cypriot authorities should strengthen the provision of information to presumed and formally identified victims of trafficking regarding their rights, the services available and how to access them, as well as the implications of being identified as a victim of trafficking,” the report also said.
It also said that no legal aid is provided to victims of trafficking before or during investigations, and only two applications for legal aid for the purpose of claiming compensation had been approved by the attorney general’s office.
“GRETA urges the Cypriot authorities to strengthen their efforts to facilitate and guarantee access to justice for victims of trafficking by ensuring that they receive specialised legal assistance and free legal aid at an early stage of the criminal proceedings,” the report said, according to the newspaper.
Victims of trafficking are also allowed to claim compensation through criminal proceedings or a civil claim but none were reported and a victim support fund has been delayed “and no victim has so far received state compensation in Cyprus,” it said. GRETA urged authorities to adopt measures to facilitate and guarantee access to compensation that cases are “investigated more promptly, prosecuted successfully, and lead to effective, proportionate and dissuasive sanctions.”