Cyprus remains a hub of international human trafficking. This is at least partly facilitated by the division of the country, with the North being occupied by Turkey since the mid-seventies. This frozen conflict, according to the police services, makes cross-border cooperation particularly difficult. The northern region is now considered as dangerous in terms of human trafficking as Afghanistan.
Last year, the US State Department decided to no longer maintain Cyprus in the category of countries where human trafficking has the smallest size. The island was reduced to a lower category. In doing so, reference was made to a series of problems, such as lengthy court proceedings and a lack of convictions.
“The Northern Territory, which is recognized only by Turkey, should even be placed in the category with the largest violators,” the US Department noted. “Afghanistan and North Korea can also be found in that category.”
“The lack of progress in resolving the political conflict suppresses attention to problems such as human trafficking,” emphasizes Nasia Hadjigeorgiou, professor of human rights at the University of Central Lancashire Cyprus. “This stalemate also means that there is no cooperation between the two areas in terms of law enforcement. This allows traffickers to operate freely.”
“In the North, smugglers are abusing student visa regulations, ” said Fezile Osum, representative of the Human Rights Platform, which identified twelve victims of trafficking in the area last year. “In some cases, young women from African countries are brought in as students, but after their arrival they are often locked up in flats and forced into commercial sex.”
“In addition, it turns out that women are also forced into sexual services in all kinds of nightclubs, although organized prostitution is officially prohibited in the area. Victims note that the clubs often use blackmail and drugs to control the trafficking of women.”
Two years ago, human trafficking was criminalized for the first time in the northern part of Turkey, but Osum points out that no convictions have yet been recorded. Since the Turkish part of the island does not enjoy recognition, there is also no opportunity to fight organized crime together with international bodies.
“The North can therefore be seen as an area where traffickers enjoy impunity,” said Turkish Cypriot politician Dogus Derya.
A report by the European Commission showed that during the second half of the past decade, 168 suspected victims of victims were counted in Cyprus per million inhabitants. This gave Cyprus the worst score in the entire European Union. The United Kingdom followed in second place with 91 victims.
Cyprus Stop Trafficking says the victims come from almost everywhere. Mention is made of Romania and Bulgaria, two member states of the European Union, but also of Russia, Ukraine, Ethiopia, Nigeria, Moldova, Cameroon, India and Nepal, among others.
The Republic of Cyprus, which controls the south of the island, introduced broader anti-trafficking legislation eight years ago. “Twenty-One victims of human trafficking were officially recognized here last year,” emphasizes Eleni Michael, responsible for the fight against human trafficking at the local police.
“However, 169 people were also classified as possible victims. The police are committed to assisting victims, but only verified allegations can lead to official recognition. However, when the facts happened outside the territory, it becomes especially difficult.”
In the hope of being able to tackle the problem of trafficking in human beings more efficiently, a technical commission has now been set up in which representatives from both parts of the country sit. “This may offer some hope, ” notes Andreas Kapardis, the Greek Cypriot co-president of the commission.
“But no legal authority has been assigned to that commission. With the necessary political will, human trafficking can be better combated, but the problems surrounding the official recognition of the north are often an insurmountable obstacle.”