The government maintained victim protection efforts. The government identified 25 victims (24 in 2019); nine were sex trafficking victims, 13 were forced labor victims, including one victim of forced begging, and three were victims of both sex trafficking and forced labor; eight were female and 13 were male; three were children; and all adults were foreign victims. The three child victims, two males and one female, were Cypriot nationals. A multi-disciplinary NRM provided standard operating procedures for identifying and referring victims to services, including an operational manual, written guidance for first responders, and guidelines specifically for children. The police conducted proactive identification efforts, including in apartments, pubs, and agricultural establishments, but GRETA and other observers reported the ATU lacked sufficient resources to effectively investigate all referrals of potential victims, particularly among the increasing number of asylum seekers. The NRM required first responders to conduct preliminary identification of potential victims and refer potential victims to SWS. SWS officers provided potential victims with information and notified the ATU, who officially identified victims. Civil society reported the implementation of the NRM improved during the reporting period; however, SWS continued to respond slowly to referrals of potential victims and failed to refer all potential victims to ATU for official identification procedures. For example, trafficking victims exploited prior to arriving in Cyprus and applying for asylum at immigration offices and detention centers may not be identified, according to GRETA, that documented NGOs referring potential victims among asylum seekers to SWS who were not referred to ATU. Additionally, SWS continued to lack the capacity to maintain contact with potential victims, and some potential victims did not have access to adequate accommodations and financial assistance. SWS reduced staff due to pandemic mitigation efforts, and a sharp increase in asylum applications exacerbated delays, resulting in potential victims among asylum seekers lacking adequate accommodation, health care, and financial support for months while waiting for SWS services. In 2019, the government established a permanent screening system for newly arrived asylum seekers and, in 2020, SWS deployed 42 officers dedicated to assisting asylum seekers, including screening for indicators of trafficking. 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 that at times the NRM was not fully functional on weekends and, in previous years, the on-call SWS officer did not deem potential trafficking cases an emergency. The ATU interviewed 196 potential victims referred by SWS (246 potential victims, including 172 asylum seekers in 2019). In previous years, observers reported the ATU identification process lacked transparency and some interviews were not victim-centered, but ATU adopted a new victim identification form for potential victims aligned with internal identification manuals and based on international standards and guidelines. The government trained SWS officers, asylum officers, and mental health services staff on victim identification and assistance.
The law entitled officially identified victims to psycho-social services, health care, translation and interpretation services, education, vocational training, and financial assistance. Once ATU officially identified a victim, SWS evaluated the needs of 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 50 official and potential victims (53 in 2019). 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 allocated €494,010 ($606,140) to operate the SWS-run shelter, a significant increase compared to €337,970 ($414,680) in 2019. GRETA reported “a high standard of accommodation” in the SWS-run shelter, including living conditions, protections, and reintegration programs. Similarly, NGOs reported good service quality at the SWS-run shelter, health care services, and labor office but, as in previous years, observers reported victims continued to rely heavily on NGOs to help navigate cumbersome SWS procedures to access support services. 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 €164,990 ($202,440146,700) to the NGO, compared with €147,000 ($180,370) in 2019. 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 faced obstacles to secure adequate accommodations due to increasing housing costs and greater demand for low-cost housing. The government allocated €213,620 ($262,110) for rent allowances and financial assistance to trafficking victims through a public benefit scheme known as Guaranteed Minimum Income, an increase compared with €168,980 ($207,340) in 2019. The government prioritized public benefit applications from trafficking victims over all other beneficiaries, but observers continued to report long delays, which were prolonged from reduced staff due to pandemic mitigation efforts, and victims waited several 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. The government allocated €36,400 ($44,670) for emergency rent and assistance to cover urgent needs, compared with €30,000 ($36,810) in 2019. 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. Victims could access free health care at public hospitals but did not have access to the General Healthcare System, established in 2019, which allowed free access to participating private sector healthcare providers. Employment counselors trained to handle sensitive cases sought suitable employment for each victim and benefits to victims did not discontinue until a SWS officer and an employment counselor examined each case.
There were no reports the government penalized victims for crimes their traffickers compelled them to commit; however, due to delays in formal identification procedures, some asylum seekers may have been detained in reception centers while waiting for their interviews. The government 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 granted eight requests for residence and work permits (10 in 2019) and granted refugee or international protection status to three victims of trafficking. However, in November 2020, the Ministry of Interior (MOI) informed a labor trafficking victim from India—identified in 2015—that his residence and work permits would not be renewed and that he would be processed for repatriation due to the absence of a criminal court case against his traffickers. Prosecutors reportedly declined to prosecute his case due to a lack of corroborating evidence, and police arrested and detained the trafficking victim on March 14, 2021. After the international community inquired about the case, authorities released the victim on March 31, but his residency and work permits were still pending. Specialized personnel in the ATU, including a forensic psychologist, conducted interviews with potential and identified victims before taking an official statement. Overall, 21 victims assisted law enforcement investigations. Police permitted victims to leave Cyprus and return for trial after assessing the potential risks. No victims left Cyprus and returned to testify in trial (one in 2019). 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 2020. 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; courts used none of these methods in 2019. Authorities provided victims’ family members living abroad protection measures from intimidation and retaliation by arranging travel to Cyprus through diplomatic channels. Law allowed restitution through criminal cases and compensation through civil suits, but judges have never issued restitution, and authorities only approved two applications to date from victims for legal aid to pursue compensation.