We often give slavery the character of a form of oppression that belongs to the past or in countries outside the Cypriot European horizon yet the reality is unfortunately different. Little does human trafficking differ from the old slave markets, besides the fact that it doesn’t take place in a public square, but in hidden places, in conditions of illegality. Seeing something in the news of such cases in Cyprus is common, but the moment the story passes to the next, the issue is forgotten until next time.
Trafficking however, the recruitment and movement of persons within or outside national borders by persons with intent to induce a forced exploitation, is one of the most serious and deep-rooted human rights violations. Traffickers control their victims through threats, violence, deception or threats to use violence against relatives and friends of victims, forcing them mainly in sexual or labor exploitation.
According to the European Union, the number of victims of trafficking within the Member States is estimated to be around tens of thousands a year. In Cyprus only in 2014 46 new victims were identified, while between 2010 and 2012 129 victims were identified which was the 3rd highest rate in Europe. The number of victims is even greater when we consider how many are never identified. On the occasion of this global phenomenon July 30 was set by the UN as the World Day Against Trafficking in Persons.
It is therefore obvious that the argument for the existence of modern slavery in our own society is in no way an exaggeration. This phenomenon is one of the most common human rights violations in Cyprus, particularly for sexual exploitation. Although recent years have seen a decrease in cases of sexual exploitation, the problem remains. Trafficking in Cyprus not entails sexual exploitation but also other forms of trafficking in persons which remain at high levels; over-exploitation through forced labor, organ trafficking, begging, forced marriages and illegal adoptions.
Despite progress that has been reported also by the State Department’s annual Trafficking in Persons report, tackling the phenomenon remains problematic. Identified victims are often forced to live in poverty and misery and as a result many of them depend on charities to ensure shelter and food. There is a crucial need for full and effective implementation of both the Cypriot law and the European legal framework, which includes the obligation of the State to ensure the well-being of victims, providing decent living conditions and protection, access to medical, social and psychological support.
We, as Future Worlds Center within the operation of the Unit for Rehabilitation of Victims of Torture (URVT), provide psychological, legal and social support to victims of trafficking, as they experience hard and agonizing torture of various forms. At the same time we highlight the critical issue of addressing the victims as criminals or undocumented immigrants which pose serious obstacles in the provision asylum even to registered victims.
We often ignore that trafficking in Cyprus is not a minor injustice, but it is a modern form of slavery. The slave trade is a part of our everyday life. Highlighting the seriousness of the problem and the need for coordinated action by society is essential for the effective treatment of a phenomenon that haunts the our modern society.
Future Worlds Center
Humanitarian Affairs Unit
July 30th, 2015