There is another side to Cyprus (both North and South), a side that does not receive much press except in occasional newspaper and journal articles or blogs. Cyprus ranks in the top 40 most corrupt countries in the world, and one that has a very poor human rights record. Contrary to the pristine image that the island portrays to the outside world to attract tourists and foreign capital, it has a very serious problem with human trafficking, probably the worst record in the EU.
Human trafficking is about making quick and large profits by exploiting human beings, mostly women, who are most vulnerable and are promised the moon on their way to semi-enslavement. Human trafficking usually takes place by forcible methods in recruitment, transportation and harboring individuals. Cyprus began to raise its living standards as money poured in from nearby Arab countries, but also from Russia.
In the last couple of decades Cyprus became a safe-heaven for money laundering operations and offshore companies by those wishing to escape paying taxes in their country. With massive corrupt money on the island of Aphrodite, money also generated from a narcotics trade, it was inevitable that there would be the demand for human trafficking.
Like some Arab countries, Cyprus has attracted a substantial immigrant population mostly from Philippines, Sri Lanka, Pakistan and Bangladesh. Needless to say, the working and living conditions of these Asian workers are among the worst and cases of abuse, especially at the expense of women, are common. In North Cyprus, foreign professors, promised EU salaries and attractive housing, are allured to teach in universities (there are over 12 on this island of population 1m) only to find themselves in dormitories with much lower salaries than promısed, few holidays compared to the western model, left without passports or the ability to travel for months. The problem is made worse by xenophobia and weak institutional structures to protect foreign workers, whether they are in the professions or manual laborers.
An integral issue of corruption is “women for entertainment.” An international ring of traffickers has been working within Cyprus bringing women from Russia, other former East Bloc countries, and Latin America to work in bars, cabarets, fronting as barmaids and dancers, while forcibly prostituting and the money going to their “handlers.” The human-trafficking-related “entertainment” business more than doubled from 1982 to 2002.
All EU members, Cyprus included, have a problem with illegal immigration that has been made worse by the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as the 2008-present recession. Illegal immigrants, asylum seekers and immigrants caught at land and sea borders with Syria, Iran, Iraq, Georgia, Greece and Bulgaria number between 25,000 to 35,000 annually, but that is only those caught. The major entry point for illegal immigrants is Turkey that has been less than cooperative with the EU on this score.
As long as there is money to be made, women from Russia, Latin America, Philippines, Morocco, Syria, Dominican Republic, Romania, Moldova, Uzbekistan, and Ukraine are trafficked in Cyprus for the sex trade industry and/or narcotics trafficking. Cyprus is a heroin, cocaine, and hashish route to Europe with Lebanon and Turkey as the points of origin. There is an inexorably link between human trafficking, narcotics, and money laundering, all of which would be impossible to facilitate in a small country like Cyprus in the absence of corrupt officials.
The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) has ruled on specific cases that Cyprus in cooperation with Russia is guilty of human rights violations, and this owing to very egregious cases where women have committed suicide, or been killed. ECHR has also ruled that Cyprus lacks the proper legal and institutional framework to prevent sex trafficking. In fact, the level of corruption runs from the immigration authorities to police officers.
There have been many reports that police officers, as well as other government officials are heavily involved in the trade, while the government has been very reluctant to adopt policies against human trafficking. The problem of course starts with a very corrupt government that issues “Artiste” permits to women that traffickers bring to Cyprus. The second problem is the lack of legal, enforcement, and social services to combat human trafficking. The responsibility rests squarely with the Interior Ministry that has recently come under immense pressure from the EU and private organizations to address the issue by eliminating the “Artiste” Visa program.
Owing to pressure from various organizations and the EU, the government of (Greek-speaking) Cyprus in the last few months has started to take some steps to address the problem of human trafficking and corruption more broadly. Although it is especially embarrassing for the left-wing regime of (Greek-speaking) Cyprus to have the same label of corruption as previous regimes, not much progress has been made.
The obstacle as in not that there is overwhelming illegal activity, whether it involves narcotics, money laundering, or human trafficking, but that there is a lot of money spread around to grease the wheels of reluctant officials. Therefore, the human trafficking issue is inexorably linked to the larger money laundering one in which banks are heavily involved, although they have promised to “clean up” their act. In short, human trafficking is taking place because it is very profitable and very powerful people are making lots of tax-free money at the expense of modern human slavery.
One reason that there has been some progress with regard to human trafficking and narcotics is because it is linked to money laundering, some of which has been allegedly used to finance 'terrorism'. Because of the 'terrorism' aspect to these illegal activities, the Cypriot government yielded to EU-US pressure to adopt some measures, with the assistance of the IMF, to lean up the illegal activities. Nevertheless, the problem still exists.