BRUSSELS - A United States report on human trafficking published on Wednesday (20 June) claims severe forms of human trafficking in Cyprus are "significantly increasing".
The ranking places Cyprus in the same category as Afghanistan and Liberia where cases of women and children forcibly exploited for sex and slave-like work conditions are prevalent.
Cyprus is the only EU member state to make the US State Department tier 2 watchlist, for a second year in a row.
Cypriot minister of interior told EUobserver in a statement that while the US report "recognises that Cyprus is making significant efforts it essentially annihilates all the efforts and steps forward that Cyprus has made towards achieving the goal of effectively combating trafficking in human beings."
Despite past efforts to fight human trafficking, Cyprus has however reportedly failed to implement critical reforms necessary to protect victims. Forced prostitution and exploitation of migrant workers is not uncommon, says the report.
But the Cypriot minister noted that Cyprus has held numerous training seminars and conferences with international organisations. She also stated that the report relied heavily on input from NGOs and "does not provide convincing arguments that any in-depth research has been conducted to verify this information."
The report also took a stab Estonia, Latvia, Hungary, Romania, Bulgaria, Portugal, Greece and non-EU member state Switzerland for not complying to US minimum standards against human trafficking.
“It is good that it is highlighted,” said Myria Vassiliadou, the EU’s anti-trafficking coordinator, of the US report.
“But what I can say is that a directive is waiting to be transposed and will help push these member states to improve,” she told Euro deputies at the Parliament’s civil liberties committee on Wednesday.
Member states have just over a year to transpose the EU anti-trafficking directive into their national legislation. The directive focuses on preventing the crime, protecting victims, and prosecuting traffickers.
But the number of convictions against traffickers in the EU is low compared to the number of victims.
Just over 1,250 people were convicted in 21 EU member states in 2010. The Commission estimates the number of victims across the Union to be in the hundreds of thousands.
A lack of coordination amongst member states and insufficient evidence to convict human traffickers helps explains the low conviction rates.
“The EU strategy, aside from one or two actions, does not require member states to spend any extra money,” Vassiliadou told this website.
In a poignant reminder of the victim’s suffering, many in silence and in fear, a 15 year-old Romanian girl told her story of how at 13 she was forced to marry an older man who “treated me like I was 20 or 30 years old”.
She was sent, along with her ‘husband’, to Spain where she was coerced into stealing or face severe physical abuse. She eventually ended up in Belgium before letting herself get caught by the police. She now resides in a center for victims.
The European Commission on Tuesday also noted a lack coordination between and among member state authorities to fight human trafficking.
National authorities are not providing Eurojust, the EU's joint judicial body in The Hague, with the data that could help track down the people behind crimes which are often cross-border in nature.
Preliminary data from the EU’s statistical office, Eurostat, found around 70 percent of the victims were women in 2010. Of those, more than 10 percent are girls. The vast majority were exploited for sex while less then 15 percent worked as slaves.
“It is striking that this is happening in 2012 and it is increasing. We most stop this form of modern slavery,” EU home affairs commissioner Cecilia Malmstrom told reporters on Brussels on Tuesday.
The European Commission also adopted its strategy against human trafficking on Tuesday.
The strategy aims to better identify and protect victims; increase prosecution of traffickers; develop child protection systems; set up of national law-enforcement units on human trafficking; and create joint investigation teams including national authorities and EU agencies.