The northern area of Cyprus is administered by Turkish Cypriots. In 1983, the Turkish Cypriots proclaimed the area the independent “Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus” (“TRNC”). The United States does not recognize the “TRNC,” nor does any other country except Turkey. The area administered by Turkish Cypriots continues to be a zone of impunity for human trafficking. The area is increasingly a destination for women from Central Asia, Eastern Europe, and Africa who are subjected to forced prostitution in nightclubs licensed and regulated by the Turkish Cypriot administration. Nightclubs provide a significant source of tax revenue for the Turkish Cypriot administration; media reports estimated nightclub owners pay between 20 and 30 million Turkish lira ($5.7-8.5 million) in taxes annually. This presents a conflict of interest and a deterrent to increased political will to combat trafficking. Men and women are subjected to forced labor in industrial, construction, agriculture, domestic work, restaurant, and retail sectors. Victims of labor trafficking are controlled through debt bondage, threats of deportation, restriction of movement, and inhumane living and working conditions. Labor trafficking victims originate from China, Pakistan, Philippines, Turkey, Turkmenistan, and Vietnam. Migrants, especially those who cross into the Turkish Cypriot community after their work permits in the Republic of Cyprus have expired, are vulnerable to labor trafficking. Romani children and Turkish seasonal workers and their families are also vulnerable to labor exploitation. Women issued permits for domestic work are vulnerable to forced labor. As in previous years, NGOs reported a number of women entered the “TRNC” on three-month tourist or student visas and engaged in prostitution in apartments in north Nicosia, Kyrenia, and Famagusta; some may be trafficking victims. Migrants, asylum-seekers, refugees, and their children are also at risk for sexual exploitation.
If the “TRNC” were assigned a formal ranking in this report, it would be Tier 3. Turkish Cypriot authorities do not fully meet the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking and are not making significant efforts to do so. The area administered by the Turkish Cypriots lacked an anti-trafficking “law.” Turkish Cypriots did not keep statistics on law enforcement efforts against trafficking offenders. The area administered by Turkish Cypriots lacked shelters for victims and social, economic, and psychological services for victims. Local observers reported authorities were complicit in facilitating trafficking, and police continued to retain passports upon arrival of women working in night clubs.
Turkish Cypriots do not have a “law” that specifically prohibits trafficking in persons. Were there any trafficking-related cases, they would be tried under the “TRNC criminal code,” which prohibits living off the earnings of prostitution or encouraging prostitution and forced labor. The “Nightclubs and Similar Places of Entertainment Law of 2000” provides the most relevant legal framework via-à-vis trafficking and stipulates that nightclubs may only provide entertainment such as dance performances. Turkish Cypriots did not enforce this law, nor did the “TRNC” prosecute nightclub owners, bodyguards, or clients during the reporting period. The authorities made no efforts to punish labor recruiters or brokers involved in the recruitment of workers through knowingly fraudulent employment offers or excessive fees for migration or job placement. There was no “law” that punished traffickers who confiscate workers’ passports or documents, change contracts, or withhold wages to subject workers to servitude. Turkish Cypriots did not provide any specialized training on how to investigate or prosecute human trafficking cases.
Turkish Cypriot authorities did not allocate funding to anti-trafficking efforts, police were not trained to identify victims, and authorities provided no protection to victims. Police confiscated passports of foreign women working in nightclubs and issued them identity cards, reportedly to protect them from abuse by nightclub owners who confiscated passports. NGOs reported women preferred to keep their passports but police convinced them to render passports to police to avoid deportation. Foreign victims who voiced discontent about the treatment they received were routinely deported. Trafficking victims serving as material witnesses against a former employer were not entitled to find new employment and resided in temporary accommodation arranged by the police; experts reported women were accommodated at nightclubs. The Turkish Cypriot authorities did not encourage victims to assist in prosecutions against traffickers, and all foreign victims were deported. If the police requested a victim to stay to serve as a witness, the police were required to provide temporary accommodation. The only shelter accepting trafficking victims closed in July 2016.
During the reporting period, “TRNC” authorities issued 1,314 six-month “hostess” and “barmaid” work permits for individuals working in nightclubs and two pubs operating in the north. During the reporting period, 351 women worked under such permits. Nightclub owners hired female college students during the reporting period to bypass the cap on the number of employees legally permitted in each club and avoid taxes and monitoring. An NGO reported authorities did not consistently document the arrival of women intending to work in nightclubs. Most permit holders came from Moldova, Morocco, and Ukraine, while others came from Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kenya, Kyrgyzstan, Paraguay, Russia, Tajikistan, Tanzania, and Uzbekistan. Reportedly some “parliament” members were clientele of the nightclubs. Women were not permitted to change location once under contract with a nightclub, and Turkish Cypriot authorities deported 445 women who curtailed their contracts without screening for trafficking. While prostitution is illegal, female nightclub employees were required to submit to weekly health checks for sexually transmitted infection screening, suggesting recognition and tacit approval of the prostitution industry. Victims reported bodyguards at the night clubs accompanied them to health and police checks, ensuring they did not share details of their exploitation with law enforcement or doctors. Turkish Cypriots made no efforts to reduce demand for commercial sex acts or forced labor. The “law” that governed nightclubs prohibited foreign women from living at their place of employment; however, most women lived in group dormitories adjacent to the nightclubs or in other accommodations arranged by the establishment owner. The “Nightclub Commission,” comprises “police” and “government officials” who regulate nightclubs, prepared brochures on employee rights and distributed them to foreign women upon entry. The “Nightclub Commission” met monthly and made recommendations to the “Ministry of Interior” regarding operating licenses, changes to employee quotas, and the need for intervention at a particular establishment. The “Social Services Department” in the “Ministry of Labor” continued to run a hotline for trafficking victims; however, it is inadequately staffed by one operator who had not received any training on trafficking. A total of 30 women were repatriated during the reporting period. An expert reported trafficking victims were afraid to call the hotline because they believed it was linked to authorities. During the reporting period, the TRNC issued 2383 work permits to domestic workers.