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 Turkey. If the “TRNC” were to be assigned a formal ranking in this report, it would be Tier 3. “TRNC” does 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, “TRNC” took some steps to address trafficking. In April 2018, “Parliament” passed the 2000 UN TIP Protocol and in March 2020, “Parliament” amended the “TRNC criminal code” to include trafficking for the first time. However, Turkish Cypriot representatives did not investigate, prosecute, or convict any traffickers. Turkish Cypriot representatives did not identify any trafficking victims and provided no victim protection, including shelter and social, economic, and psychological services. Turkish Cypriot representatives did not allocate funding, provide training, 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 representatives rarely enforced this “law,” and observers continued to report the 28 nightclubs in “TRNC” employing 617 women acted as brothels where sex trafficking commonly occurred. Police confiscated passports of foreign national women working in nightclubs and issued them identity cards. “TRNC” representatives did not permit women to change location once under contract with a nightclub and routinely deported victims who voiced discontent about their treatment; Turkish Cypriot representatives deported 322 women who curtailed their contracts without screening for indicators of trafficking (255 in 2020). 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 in order 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.
The “Nightclub Commission,” composed of police and “government officials” who regulate 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 approximately five nightclubs every two weeks 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 the Turkish Cypriot administration with media reports in 2015 estimating nightclub owners paid between 20 million and 30 million Turkish lira ($1.54 million and $2.32 million) in taxes annually, presenting a conflict of interest and a deterrent to increased political will to combat trafficking. Additionally, observers alleged complicit “government officials” were involved in organized criminal groups associated with nightclubs and alleged that some “parliament” members were among the nightclubs’ clientele. Despite business closures due to pandemic mitigation measures, night club owners continued to force victims into sex trafficking.
“TRNC” representatives did not report the number of six-month hostess and barmaid “work permits” for individuals working in nightclubs and pubs, compared with 942 six-month “work permits” issued between April 2019 and January 2020. 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. Most permit holders came from Belarus, Kyrgyzstan, Moldova, Morocco, Russia, Ukraine, and Uzbekistan, while others came from Armenia, Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Kenya, Paraguay, Tajikistan, Tanzania, and Turkmenistan. “TRNC” did not provide the number of “work permits” issued to domestic workers in 2021, 2020, or 2019 (3,143 in 2018). Turkish Cypriot representatives did not encourage potential victims to assist in prosecutions against traffickers and deported all potential victims. “TRNC” representatives 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, and withholding salaries, which were common practices. Turkish Cypriots made no efforts to reduce demand for commercial sex acts. The “Social Services Department” in the “Ministry of Labor” continued to run a hotline for trafficking victims; however, it was inadequately staffed and not always operational, and experts reported trafficking victims were afraid to call the hotline because they believed it was linked to “TRNC” representatives. NGO-run hotlines reported 77 calls from potential trafficking victims and, in 2020, reported a 400 percent increase in requests for psychological assistance and a 300 percent increase in requests for legal assistance from potential victims.
As reported over the past five years, human traffickers exploit domestic and foreign victims in the “TRNC.” Traffickers exploit women from Central Asia, Eastern Europe, and Africa in sex trafficking in nightclubs licensed and regulated by Turkish Cypriot representatives. Men and women are exploited in forced labor in the industrial, construction, agriculture, domestic work, restaurant, and retail sectors. Traffickers control victims of forced labor 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. Foreign university students, many of whom were recruited with false promises of scholarships, free housing, and employment, are vulnerable to both sex and labor trafficking. 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. As in previous years, observers report that a number of women, some of whom are trafficking victims, entered the “TRNC” on three-month tourist or student visas and engaged in commercial sex in apartments in north Nicosia, Kyrenia, and Famagusta. Migrants, asylum seekers, LGBTIQ+ persons, refugees, and their children are also at risk for sexual exploitation. Observers report traffickers shifted tactics during the pandemic, forcing female sex trafficking victims to visit clients’ homes due to the drop in demand at nightclubs and often marketed home visits to potential clients under the guise of massage services. Civil society reports traffickers allegedly facing financial hardship due to the pandemic act with increased aggression towards victims.