The government maintained victim protection efforts. The government identified 24 victims (31 victims in 2018); eight were sex trafficking victims, 11 victims of both sex trafficking and forced labor, and five victims of forced labor, including one of forced begging (21 victims of sex trafficking, eight victims of both sex trafficking and forced labor, and two victims of forced labor in 2018); 21 were female and two were male (25 female victims and one male victim in 2018); and one was a child victim (none in 2018). The government also identified four victims of forced marriage (five in 2018), which authorities considered to be trafficking under their law. A multi-disciplinary national referral mechanism (NRM) provided standard operating procedures for identifying and referring victims to services, including an operational manual and written guidance for first responders. The government updated the operational manual to include guidelines for child victims. The NRM required first responders to conduct preliminary identification of potential victims and refer potential victims to SWS. The police conducted proactive identification efforts, particularly in apartments, pubs, and agricultural establishments, but observers reported the ATU lacked sufficient resources to effectively investigate all referrals of potential victims, including among asylum-seekers. SWS officers provided potential victims with information and notified the ATU, who officially identified victims.
The government approved a standardized form for referrals to SWS; however, OSCE and civil society representatives reported SWS lacked training to accurately identify victims. As a result, SWS did not respond in a timely manner to referrals of potential trafficking victims and failed to refer all potential victims to ATU for official identification procedures. Additionally, SWS lacked capacity to maintain contact with potential victims, according to OSCE and other civil society representatives, who noted some potential victims did not have access to adequate accommodations and financial assistance. SWS assigned an on-call officer outside of working hours and on weekends to provide emergency accommodation and financial support to potential victims, but observers noted the NRM was not fully functional on weekends and the on-call SWS officer did not deem potential trafficking cases an emergency. While experts reported cooperation generally improved with SWS in the referral process, it depended largely on the individual SWS officer assigned to the case. The ATU interviewed 246 potential victims referred by SWS (111 in 2018); referral statistics for 2019 were incomplete, but the government referred at least 117 potential victims, NGOs referred 79, and three self-identified (the government referred 74 potential victims, NGOs referred 37 potential victims in 2018). The government established a permanent screening system for newly arrived asylum-seekers, and observers reported identification of potential victims among asylum-seekers improved compared to previous years; the government and NGOs referred 172 asylum-seekers as potential victims (48 in 2018). Observers reported the ATU identification process lacked transparency and some interviews were not victim-centered, while authorities reported using internal identification manuals based on international standards and guidelines. Specialized personnel in the police anti-trafficking unit, including a forensic psychologist, conducted interviews with potential and identified victims before taking an official statement. The process of identifying victims exploited prior to arriving in Cyprus lasted several months, according to observers, who said police and SWS did not keep potential victims informed about the status of their cases. The government, at times in cooperation with an international organization, trained social welfare officers and asylum officers on victim identification and assistance.
The government allocated €337,970 ($379,740) to operate the SWS-run shelter, compared to €280,000 ($314,610) in 2018. This amount did not include salaries for the SWS-run shelter staff. The government allocated €168,980 ($189,870), compared with €213,420 ($239,800) in 2018, for rent allowances and financial assistance to trafficking victims through a public benefit scheme known as Guaranteed Minimum Income. In addition, the government allocated €30,000 ($33,710) for emergency rent and assistance to cover urgent needs, compared with €25,000 ($28,090) in 2018. SWS evaluated the needs of victims and potential victims and referred them to the appropriate government agencies and NGOs for assistance. SWS operated a specialized shelter for female sex trafficking victims with the capacity to accommodate 15 victims; the SWS-run shelter accommodated 53 official and potential victims (69 in 2018). Victims may stay for one month or longer, as appropriate, in the shelter for a reflection period. The SWS-run shelter allowed adult victims to leave the shelter voluntarily after an assessment conducted by the ATU. The government maintained a memorandum of cooperation with an NGO to manage transitional housing for female sex trafficking victims, which accommodated sex trafficking victims searching for permanent residence after leaving the state-run shelter, and to provide longer-term accommodation for female victims in apartments. The government allocated €147,000 ($165,170) to the NGO, compared with €62,000 ($69,660) in 2018. The government also provided a rent subsidy and a monthly allowance for all victims and partnered with NGOs to provide apartments for male victims; however, victims experienced delays in rent disbursements resulting in the eviction of one victim and landlords’ threats of eviction for other victims in 2018.
The law entitled victims to psycho-social services, health care, translation and interpretation services, education, vocational training, and financial assistance. The government trained health care professionals on the mental health care for sex trafficking victims, and all staff at the government-run shelter participated in monthly training sessions from Ministry of Health clinical psychologists. The government maintained a children’s house to provide education, placement into foster homes, and specialized medical and psycho-social care for child victims of sexual abuse and exploitation, including trafficking. Observers reported good quality of service at the government-run shelter, health care services, and labor offices; however, victims continued to rely heavily on NGOs to help navigate cumbersome SWS procedures to access support services. In previous years, the government streamlined the process for providing financial support to victims and prioritized public benefit applications from trafficking victims; however, observers reported victims still waited approximately four months to receive benefits with no retroactive payments. Victims received emergency financial assistance in cases of delayed distribution of monthly allowances, but the amount was insufficient to cover basic necessities. Observers reported victims were unable to register with the new government-run General Healthcare System (GESY) due to a technical issue. To mitigate the spread of COVID-19, in March the government began requiring referrals from GESY-registered personal doctors for individuals to get treatment at state hospitals, which observers said prevented victims from accessing health care. Employment counselors trained to handle sensitive cases sought suitable employment for each victim. Employment counselors helped 10 victims find employment during the reporting period.
The government and civil society did not report any cases of penalization of victims for unlawful acts traffickers compelled them to commit. The government voluntarily repatriated or granted residence permits and work authorization to foreign victims, including those who decided after their reflection period not to cooperate with the police. The government extended the residence and work permit for 10 victims (six victims in 2018) and granted asylum to one victim (two in 2018). All 24 identified victims assisted law enforcement in investigations (27 in 2018). The government permitted victims to leave Cyprus and return for trial, and police remained in contact with victims while they were abroad; one victim left Cyprus and returned to testify in trial (none in 2018). However, victims and witnesses often left the country and did not return before trial due to long delays, hindering prosecution efforts. The law entitled victims to witness protection through a request made by the police to the Attorney General; no requests were made in 2019 or 2018. Police officers escorted victims to court proceedings and the law allowed courts closed-door trials, a partition to separate victims from their traffickers, remote testimony, and the use of video-recorded testimonies for child victims; however, courts used none of the methods in 2019 or 2018. Prosecutors did not seek restitution in criminal cases, but the law allowed victims to pursue compensation through civil suits or through the victim compensation fund; authorities approved two of the three applications from victims for legal aid to pursue compensation (10 victims applied for legal aid in 2018).