A report prepared by the government of Cyprus says the island has become a site of virtually uncontrolled trafficking of women, particularly women from Eastern Europe and the former Soviet republics.
The report says that, every year, more than 2,000 women pass through Cyprus, and are forced into prostitution in European and Arab countries.
The report by Cyprus government ombudsman Iliana Nicolaou says many of these women come to Cyprus from poorer countries hoping for a better life, and expecting jobs in house cleaning, child care and similar businesses. Instead, most of them end up forced into prostitution and enduring physical and metal abuse.
The report puts much of the blame on the government. The Immigration Department is accused of granting thousands of work permits to women, with the knowledge that they may be forced into the sex industry.
With Cyprus just six-months away from joining the European Union, this report is likely to cause serious concern, both in Nicosia and at the EU human rights offices in Brussels.
Many of the women end up working as prostitutes in Cyprus. Prostitution is not legal in Cyprus, but it is well known that most of the country's approximately 100 'cabarets' offer sex to their customers.
In an interview with VOA, Cyprus Minister of Justice Doros Theodorou acknowledged the problem.
"It is true that most women working in these places are used for sexual acts," he said.
The Justice Minister also claims that the foreign women are aware that they will be working in the sex trade when they decide to come to Cyprus. But he denies that Cyprus is a center for trafficking women to other countries.
"The impression that these women pass by, going after their stay in Cyprus to other countries is not true," said Doros Theodorou. "It does not reflect reality. Almost all of these women, actually 97 percent, after they end their contract, return to their country of origin, and only three percent go to Lebanon and another 0.5 percent go to Syria. The rest, that is 97 percent, return to their country of origin. What I say is, Cyprus is not used as a center for women trafficking. That is what I am saying."
But the head of the human rights unit at the ombudsman's office, Aristos Chartas, insists the report is accurate, and says the government must take action.
"We have conducted an investigation for nearly two years now," he said. "We have gone through files and through interviews with those people who work in the industry and the commissioner has already prepared a report, submitted yesterday, stating that Cyprus is not only a country of destination, but also a country of transit of women who are passed on into the sex industry."
The Ombudsman's report will be discussed at a meeting next week between officials of the Ministry of the Interior and the Ministry of Justice.
According to the "Angel Coalition," a sex trafficking public awareness group based in Moscow, about 50,000 Russian women are lured into sexual slavery abroad each year by fake job offers.