NEWS

Cyprus ‘transit hub for sex trade’

NICOSIA – More than 2,000 foreign women a year are exploited in Cyprus’s flourishing sex trade before being quickly moved on to other European destinations, a report by the country’s ombudsman revealed yesterday. Ombudsman Iliana Nicolaou’s report, which looked at the working conditions of foreign women employed as cabaret artistes in Cyprus, chillingly concluded that the Mediterranean island is the site of virtually uncontrolled people trafficking. «The evidence of the investigation indicates that Cyprus over the past two decades is not only a country of destination but a transit point for women who are systematically channeled into prostitution,» said Nicolaou’s report. She criticized the authorities for issuing thousands of permits to foreign women to work in cabarets, knowing full well they would be forced into prostitution by their employers and held against their will in many cases. «The number of foreign women imported like perishable goods exceeds 1,000 every six months,» said Nicolaou. «Most enter the island legally as cabaret artistes but for an illegal purpose,» she added. Cyprus’s sex industry has long been criticized as a magnet for traffickers in foreign women from impoverished former Soviet and Eastern bloc states seeking a better life in Europe. According to the report, many women are sent to Greece and Germany, as well as Lebanon and Syria, after a stint in Cyprus. It is unclear how many voluntarily come to the island, although two young Ukrainian women testified to the ombudsman that they came to Cyprus to «dance and drink with customers only» but were «treated like slaves.» The Ukrainians described how they were forced to go with clients, who pay up to $300 a time, and were literally held hostage outside working hours. They also said they were in debt from the moment they arrived as their employers introduced nefarious charges they had to work off. During a visit in June Council of Europe Human Rights Commissioner Alvaro Gil Robles voiced concern at the number of foreign women employed in cabarets for such a small island. Officially, there are around 1,500 foreign women employed at 79 cabarets and 56 night spots, almost twice the number of 10 years ago. Those hired as foreign barmaids are also said to be involved in organized prostitution. Despite fears that Cyprus has become a people-trafficking center, authorities have done little to plug the gaps. «As in taking any practical measures in stamping out flesh traffickers, the report shows that essentially nothing has been done,» said Nicolaou’s report.