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 Türkiye. Turkish Cypriot authorities did not maintain any efforts to provide victim protection and assistance or implement efforts to prevent trafficking. Turkish Cypriot authorities do not fully meet the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking and is not making significant efforts to do so, even considering the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on its anti-trafficking capacity. Despite the lack of significant efforts, authorities took some steps to address trafficking. In April 2018 “Parliament” passed the UN TIP Protocol. In March 2020, “Parliament” amended the “TRNC Criminal Code” to include trafficking for the first time; and Turkish Cypriot authorities convicted its first trafficker under the trafficking article in December 2022 and sentenced the trafficker to four years’ imprisonment. However, Turkish Cypriot authorities did not investigate or prosecute other traffickers in 2022. Turkish Cypriot police did not identify any trafficking victims and provided no victim protection, including shelter and social, economic, and psychological services. Turkish Cypriot authorities did not allocate funding or implement prevention efforts to combat trafficking.
The “Nightclubs and Similar Places of Entertainment Law of 2000” stipulated nightclubs may only provide entertainment such as dance performances, but Turkish Cypriot authorities rarely enforced this “law.” Turkish Cypriot authorities reported 26 nightclubs in the area administered by Turkish Cypriots employed 1,353 women during the reported period (617 in 2022), and observers continued to report the nightclubs acted as brothels where sex trafficking commonly occurred. Police confiscated passports of foreign national women working in nightclubs and issued them hostess visas upon entry into the area administered by Turkish Cypriots. Turkish Cypriot authorities did not permit women to change employers once under contract with a nightclub and routinely deported victims who voiced discontent about their treatment; Turkish Cypriot authorities deported 11 women after curtailing their contracts (322 women in 2021). The “law” prohibited living off the earnings of prostitution or encouraging prostitution, but nightclub bodyguards accompanied female nightclub employees to their weekly health checks for sexually transmitted infections, ensuring the women did not share details about potential exploitation in commercial sex with police or doctors to facilitate continued illegal activity. The “law” that governed nightclubs prohibited foreign women from living at their place of employment; however, most women lived in dormitories adjacent to the nightclubs or in other accommodations arranged by the owner, a common indicator of trafficking. Observers reported nightclub owners and bodyguards blackmailed victims, made death threats, forced victims to use drugs, and prevented victims from receiving any medical assistance.
The “Nightclub Commission,” composed of police and “government officials” who regulated nightclubs, 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 “Nightclub Commission” reportedly inspected nightclubs randomly and followed up on complaints. However, in practice, inspections focused on the sanitation of kitchens and, interviews with women working in nightclubs always took place in front of nightclub bodyguards or staff, preventing women from speaking freely. Nightclubs provided a source of tax revenue for Turkish Cypriot authorities with media reports in 2015 estimating nightclub owners paid between 20 and 30 million Turkish lira ($1.07 million and $1.6 million) in taxes annually, presenting a conflict of interest and a deterrent to increased political will to combat trafficking. In addition, observers alleged complicit “government officials” were involved in organized criminal groups associated with nightclubs and that some police maintained connections with nightclub managers, owners, and operators, which further stymied efforts to address concerns.
Turkish Cypriot authorities issued 1,353 six-month hostess and barmaid “work permits” for individuals working in nightclubs and pubs in 2022, compared with 942 issued between April 2019 and January 2020. Observers reported that nightclub owners hired female college students to bypass the cap on the number of employees legally permitted in each club and to avoid taxes and monitoring. Turkish Cypriot authorities reported permit holders came from Algeria, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Colombia, Cuba, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Kenya, Moldova, Morocco, Russia, Turkmenistan, Ukraine, and Uzbekistan, and for the first time from Egypt, Georgia, Germany, Iran, Lebanon, Romania, Tunisia, and Venezuela. Turkish Cypriot authorities have not provided the number of “work permits” issued to domestic workers since 2018 (3,143). Turkish Cypriot authorities did not encourage potential victims to assist in prosecutions against traffickers and deported all potential victims. The “law” allowed compensation through civil suits, but experts reported the process was extremely difficult because of a lack of victim assistance, particularly legal assistance; one potential victim filed a civil suit. Turkish Cypriot authorities did not have a NAP and did not conduct any awareness campaigns or research on trafficking issues. Turkish Cypriot authorities did not enforce labor “laws,” and observers reported Turkish Cypriot representatives made little effort to investigate employers and recruitment agencies charging high recruitment fees, confiscating passports, or withholding salaries, which were common practices. The “Social Services Department” in the “Ministry of Labor” continued to run a hotline for social service complaints, which included trafficking. However, it was not always operational and was inadequately staffed, and experts reported trafficking victims were afraid to call the hotline because they believed it was linked to Turkish Cypriot authorities. NGO-run hotlines reported 13 calls from trafficking victims, compared with 77 calls from potential trafficking victims in 2021.
As reported over the past five years, human traffickers exploit domestic and foreign victims in the area administered by Turkish Cypriots. Traffickers exploit women from Central Asia, Eastern Europe, and Africa in sex trafficking in nightclubs licensed and regulated by Turkish Cypriot authorities. Men and women are exploited in forced labor in the industrial, construction, agriculture, domestic work, restaurant, and retail sectors. Traffickers control forced labor victims through debt-based coercion, threats of deportation, restriction of movement, and inhumane living and working conditions. Labor trafficking victims originate from Eastern Europe, sub-Saharan Africa, Central Asia, and South and Southeast Asia. Migrants, especially those who cross into the area administered by Turkish Cypriots 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 and trafficking.
Thirty percent of the total population in the area administered by Turkish Cypriots are foreign university students, particularly from sub-Saharan Africa, South and Central Asia, and the Middle East. Turkish Cypriot–funded and for-profit universities pay unregulated agents and recruitment agencies up to €1,000 ($1070) for each successfully recruited student. Agents and recruitment agencies deceive foreign students with false promises of scholarships, free housing, and employment. Unlicensed moneylenders issue loans to students and confiscate their passports as guarantees, increasing their vulnerability to trafficking to pay off debts. Traffickers force female students into sex trafficking in apartments and male students into forced labor or coerce students to commit crimes such as transporting or selling drugs. Students who drop out of school or engage in irregular work, many from sub-Saharan African countries, are particularly vulnerable. Local business owners deceive newly arrived students into working in nightclubs, casinos, hotels, and other places of employment under inhumane working conditions with little or no pay. Migrants, asylum-seekers, LGBTQI+ persons, and refugees and their children are also at risk for sexual exploitation. Observers reported traffickers shifted tactics during the pandemic, forcing female sex trafficking victims to visit clients’ homes because of the drop in demand at nightclubs and often marketed home visits to potential clients under the guise of massage services. Civil society reported traffickers allegedly facing financial hardship because of the pandemic acted with increased aggression toward victims.