State Department's report on Cyprus' anti-trafficking efforts
Nicosia, Jun 3 (CNA) - Cyprus has made some progress in its anti-trafficking efforts over the past year but the government does not fully comply with the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking, the US State Department's fifth annual Trafficking in Persons Report says.
The report includes Cyprus in the Tier 2 placement whereas last year it was included in the lower level of Tier 2 Watch List.
According to the report, Cyprus is a destination country for women trafficked from Eastern and Central Europe for the purpose of sexual exploitation.
''Traffickers who forced women into prostitution continued to fraudulently recruit victims for work as dancers in cabarets and nightclubs on short-term 'artiste' visas, for work in pubs and bars on employment visas, or for illegal work on tourist or student visas. There was increasing evidence of Chinese women being trafficked for sexual exploitation in Cyprus,'' it says.
However, the report notes that the Cyprus government is making significant efforts to comply with the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking and adds that the new police anti-trafficking unit produced successful results and showed vigilance in combating the problem.
Government recognition of the problem improved, and there was a perceptible shift in awareness among officials, the press, and the public, it says.
It adds that the government did ''little to generate public awareness about the role customers play in contributing to trafficking in Cyprus.''
''The government of Cyprus should immediately formalise its recently completed National Action Plan and proactively enforce its implementation. Moreover, the government should work to improve cooperation with civil society on victim protection and assistance,'' the report suggests.
Regarding prosecution, it says that in 2004 the government of Cyprus significantly increased its anti-trafficking enforcement efforts, particularly in the area of investigations and arrests.
In the same year the government closed ten cabarets for operating without a license and signed a number of anti-trafficking cooperation agreements with source countries during the reporting period.
The government's efforts in the area of protection improved in 2004, the report says, adding that the Welfare Department of the Ministry of Labour routinely ensured that victims received temporary shelter, received legal and financial assistance, and issued residence and employment permits in cases where victims cooperated in an investigation.
''Notably, the government has stopped issuance of new cabaret licenses and now prohibits hiring replacements for women on artiste visas who are identified as victims and removed from cabarets,'' it says.
The State Department's report notes that although the government established a screening and referral process, it has yet to fully standardise it by completing its proposed handbook for handling victims.
It furthermore notes that although the government's anti-trafficking unit held a number of press conferences and appeared in popular media to promote its anti-trafficking activities, the government did not conduct any large-scale demand-oriented awareness campaigns.
''Cyprus Police reported receiving an estimated 20 trafficking-related calls per week via their crime prevention hotline,'' it says.
The report also refers to the situation in the Turkish occupied areas of Cyprus, noting that the area ''is not recognised by the United States or any other country, except Turkey.''
''The area administered by Turkish Cypriots is a destination for women trafficked from Eastern and Central Europe for the purpose of sexual exploitation. There are indications that it is also used as a transit point for persons trafficked into forced labour into the EU,'' it says.
It adds that in 2004, ''Turkish Cypriot authorities demonstrated an increased recognition of the trafficking problem'' and that ''police reportedly investigated all complaints made by victims, and they continued their policy of holding the passports and airplane tickets of nightclub employees to prevent exploitation by employers.''
In 2004, 1,033 visas were issued to women working in bars and nightclubs in the occupied areas of Cyprus.
''Notably, in 2004 the police reportedly repatriated 191 women who wished to terminate their nightclub contracts - a possible sign of trafficking. Turkish Cypriot authorities should take immediate action to strengthen prosecution efforts and stiffen penalties for perpetrators,'' the report suggests.