The US has downgraded Cyprus to Tier 2 from Tier 1 in the State Department 2021 Trafficking in Persons Report. The report that was released on July 1st, said, among others, that for the third consecutive year, courts did not convict any perpetrators under the trafficking law. The last time the Cyprus was in Tier 2 was in 2017.
The report said that “the Government of the Republic of Cyprus does not fully meet the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking but is making significant efforts to do so.” However, it added, “these efforts were not serious and sustained compared to the efforts during the previous reporting period, even considering the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the government’s anti-trafficking capacity.” Nine recommendations are made for specific goals and objectives to further the Government of the Republic of Cyprus`s anti-trafficking efforts over the next year.
An official of the US embassy in Nicosia said on Thursday that “unfortunately, after three years ranked at Tier 1, the State Department assessed that the government of the Republic of Cyprus did not meet all four of the minimum standards and were not making `appreciable progress compared to the previous year and downgraded the Republic from Tier 1 to Tier 2.”
In addition to Cyprus, five other countries received downgrades from Tier 1 to Tier 2: Israel, New Zealand, Norway, Portugal, and Switzerland.
The State Department recommendations to the Cyprus government are to vigorously investigate, prosecute, and convict traffickers under the law for trafficking and sentence convicted traffickers to significant prison terms, allocate sufficient resources to enable the anti-trafficking unit to effectively investigate all offenses and Social Welfare Services to refer all potential victims in a timely manner, reduce delays in providing victim assistance, including access to health care, rental disbursements, and financial assistance and train government personnel, particularly SWS officials, on victim identification, assistance, and referral.
Moreover, to proactively identify victims among vulnerable populations, including migrants, asylum seekers, and agricultural workers, reduce delays in court proceedings, strengthen the capacity of the Labor Inspectorate to identify and refer victims of forced labor, improve victim-centered investigations and prosecutions and implement witness protection measures when necessary and implement recommendations made by the Ombudsman and other entities that monitor and evaluate anti-trafficking policies and efforts.
The State Department said in the report that “although the government identified roughly the same number of victims, authorities investigated fewer suspects, and, for the third consecutive year, courts did not convict any perpetrators under the trafficking law.”
“Court proceedings for most crimes lasted years, and foreign victims and witnesses often returned to their countries of origin without an adequate means to ensure the continued inclusion of their testimony, resulting in trafficking cases convicted under lesser charges. The anti-trafficking unit continued to lack sufficient resources to thoroughly investigate all referrals of potential trafficking victims”, it added.
Moreover, it noted that “the Social Welfare Services did not respond in a timely manner to referrals of potential victims and failed to refer all potential victims to the anti-trafficking unit for official identification procedures. As a result, potential victims lacked adequate accommodation, healthcare, and financial support for months.”
It also said that “the Multidisciplinary Coordinating Group met less frequently than in 2019 due to the pandemic, and the government did not organize any awareness campaigns.”
Replying to questions, the US embassy official said that the US Ambassador in Nicosia, Judith Garber, discussed about the report before this was released with Cyprus Foreign Minister, Nikos Christodoulides, and former Justice and Public Order Minister, Emily Yiolitis and that he himself met with the Interior Minister, Nicos Nouris, to discuss it.
The Cypriot officials welcomed the process related to the report and they did express to us some understanding of why Cyprus was downgraded, he noted. Furthermore he said that they pointed out their plan to address the issues raised. He added that officials recognize the need for improvement on convictions and sentencing.
The embassy official also said that they have a close working relationship with the head of the Cyprus police anti-trafficking unit.
Moreover, he said that while the US does not give any formal ranking “to the area administered by Turkish Cypriots”, if it were assigned a formal ranking in the report it would be Tier 3, which is the lowest possible score.
Cyprus has been divided since 1974, when Turkish troops invaded and occupied 37% of its territory.