‘Brothel’ cabarets thrive in break­away Cyprus statelet

The China Post - - FEATURE - BY CARO­LINE NELLY PER­ROT

A white stretch limousine pulls up out­side a north­ern Nicosia hos­pi­tal to drop off cabaret girls for their monthly HIV test, in a break­away statelet where of­fi­cially pros­ti­tu­tion is illegal.

Clubs with names such as Sexy Lady, Harem and Lip­stick leave lit­tle to the imag­i­na­tion, with 50 of them in the so-called Turk­ish Re­pub­lic of North­ern Cyprus (TRNC), where tens of thou­sands of troops from Tur­key are sta­tioned in camps on the di­vided is­land.

Hun­dreds of young for­eign women work and live on the premises, on the ba­sis of “kon­so­ma­tris” (“host­ess” in Turk­ish) visas.

Although the women are legally obliged to have monthly HIV tests, Turk­ish Cypriot author­i­ties do not ac­knowl­edge they are pros­ti­tutes or vic­tims of sex traf­fick­ing.

Of­fi­cial fig­ures show 1,168 such visas were is­sued be­tween April 2014 and Jan­uary 2015, half to Moldovans and the rest to Moroc­cans, Ukraini­ans and women from cen­tral Asian coun­tries.

As the women await their blood tests, the hos­pi­tal ward is filled with Ara­bic and Slavic con­ver­sa­tion, but their min­ders dis­cour­age talk with out­siders.

Ac­cord­ing to lo­cal news­pa­pers, a for­eign woman in June tried to es­cape from a fourth floor hos­pi­tal win­dow and broke a leg.

She had re­port­edly ex­pected to be work­ing as a wait­ress and pan­icked when she re­al­ized her job was to sell sex.

“I’ve been here a month,” a Moroccan in heavy makeup said in a hushed tone as she waited for a check at a po­lice sta­tion, the next stop af­ter the hos­pi­tal.

“The po­lice have got my pass­port,” she added be­fore a ginger- haired man in his 50s with a pock­marked face told her

to keep quiet.

‘Sex slaves’

Po­lice say they keep the pass­ports “for their se­cu­rity,” but the lu­cra­tive cabaret busi­ness in north­ern Cyprus, un­der in­ter­na­tional em­bargo since a Turk­ish in­va­sion, has its crit­ics.

“These night­clubs are broth­els. Women are used as sex slaves. Ev­ery­body knows it and no­body does any­thing,” said Do­gus Derya, a mem­ber of the TRNC par­lia­ment.

“Of­ten the girls do not get a salary. They get a por­tion of what they made, but some­times only half of what was promised to make sure they come back for the rest,” she said.

“They pay for their own shoes, un­der­wear, medicine. And they are asked up to US$150 a week for their ac­com­mo­da­tion at the night­club,” said the fem­i­nist MP.

“It’s easy to do hu­man traf­fick­ing here.”

Un­der pres­sure from the Euro­pean Court of Hu­man Rights, the lo­cal par­lia­ment in Jan­uary 2014 ap­proved a se­ries of amend­ments out­law­ing hu­man traf­fick­ing for sex.

The of­fense can carry a sev­enyear jail sen­tence.

A tele­phone helpline, 157, has been launched, but Mine Atli, a lawyer and mem­ber of an “As­so­ci­a­tion of Women to Sup­port Life,” said vic­tims were “afraid to call be­cause the helpline is linked to the author­i­ties.”

Past ex­pe­ri­ence has served as a de­ter­rent for women to com­plain.

“A num­ber of women es­caped and went to the po­lice. The po­lice charged both the woman (with pros­ti­tu­tion) and the pimp,” Atli said.

She said such cases “end up in an agree­ment in court: the woman pulls back her com­plaint in ex­change for the pros­e­cu­tion to drop the charges against her ... The sta­tus quo re­mains.”

Pow­er­ful Lobby

Cabaret own­ers are a pow­er­ful lobby in a statelet de­pen­dent on al­ter­na­tive sources of rev­enues such as night­clubs and casi­nos, a mag­net for tourists from Tur­key where casi­nos are banned.

The TRNC’s in­te­rior min­is­ter, Aziz Gurpinar, said the cabarets pay around 7.5 mil­lion Turk­ish li­ras in an­nual taxes ( US$2.5 mil­lion) and in­sisted that mea­sures were be­ing taken to pre­vent ex­ploita­tion of the women.

“A brochure was pre­pared which con­tains in­for­ma­tion on the le­gal rights of the hostesses upon en­try to the coun­try and emer­gency phone num­bers they can call if needed,” he said.

“The risk of ex­ploita­tion due to the laws and reg­u­la­tions on hostesses has been pre­vented,” he told AFP by email.

The Greek Cypriot-run south of the is­land, an EU mem­ber since 2004, abol­ished “artistes’” visas four years later un­der a bar­rage of U.S. and Euro­pean ac­cu­sa­tions of women traf­fick­ing.

The re­pub­lic of Cyprus re­mains on a U.S. traf­fick­ing watch list.

The U.S. State Depart­ment charges the TRNC “con­tin­ues to be a zone of im­punity for hu­man traf­fick­ing,” with a grow­ing num­ber of for­eign women forced into pros­ti­tu­tion with­out any of­fi­cial in­ter­ven­tion.

The flip side of the TRNC’s lack of in­ter­na­tional recog­ni­tion is that it has not signed any in­ter­na­tional con­ven­tions, nor does it have to abide by them.

Cyprus has been di­vided since 1974 when Turk­ish troops oc­cu­pied its north­ern third in re­sponse to an Athens-inspired coup seek­ing union with Greece.

Only Ankara rec­og­nizes the TRNC, self-de­clared in Novem­ber 1983.

Emine Co­lak, its for­eign min­is­ter, was can­did in a con­ver­sa­tion in her law of­fice.

“The sit­u­a­tion would im­prove if there was a so­lu­tion as in­ter­na­tional treaties could be used to lever­age pres­sure on author­i­ties,” she told AFP.

“With in­ter­na­tional recog­ni­tion comes in­ter­na­tional pres­sures,” said Co­lak, who also runs a hu­man rights foun­da­tion.

Af­ter decades of failed in­ter­na­tional ini­tia­tives, a new round of U. N.- bro­kered re­uni­fi­ca­tion talks be­tween the Greek Cypriot and Turk­ish Cypriot lead­ers was launched in May.

AFP

A combo of pic­tures taken on Aug. 14 shows cabaret neon lights on the out­skirts of Nicosia, Cyprus in the self-pro­claimed Turk­ish Re­pub­lic of North­ern Cyprus (TRNC).

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