Turkey failed to fully comply with the minimum standards to eliminate human trafficking but showed significant efforts to do so, a new U.S. State Department report said on Monday.
Although the Turkish government increased law enforcement efforts against trafficking offenders, including government officials, and it identified more victims than the previous years, there is a need for vigilance and legal reforms to combat trafficking, the Department's Trafficking in Persons Report 2015 stated. It listed Turkey among the Tier 2 countries, which are trying to combat human trafficking in substantial ways.
The report criticized Turkey for its decision to cease funding for three NGO-run trafficking shelters in mid-2014 and said the application of Turkey's protocol to identify victims was not reliable. It said, "The government continued to deny children and Turkish nationals were among trafficking victims. Some officials, including police, downplayed the seriousness of the crime and failed to recognize the need for increased vigilance to combat trafficking among the refugee population."
Turkish Ministry of Justice reported prosecuting 749 suspects in 71 sex trafficking cases under article 80 in the first three quarters of 2014, and The Turkish National Police (TNP) reported conducting 30 operations resulting in the detention of dozens of suspected traffickers and the identification of 100 potential victims, according the data provided by the report.
Report's key findings
During the first three quarters of 2014, of 62 cases completed involving 285 suspects, Turkish courts were without the jurisdiction to try 44 suspects and acquitted 216 defendants. Courts convicted 25 traffickers under article 80; however, only four received terms of imprisonment, with 21 receiving suspended sentences.
The prosecutions and convictions reported in 2014 marked an increase from 2013, when the government prosecuted 196 defendants in 32 cases and convicted 17 traffickers. Nevertheless, the government again did not prosecute any forced labor crimes.
In 2014, the government prosecuted three officials complicit in human trafficking under articles 227 and 80; though the details of these cases were unclear, two of the offenders were sentenced to terms of imprisonment and one was acquitted.
The government reported entering into anti-trafficking cooperation agreements with various countries in Central Asia and Eastern Europe, and it began criminal processes against 26 alleged traffickers in cooperation with Georgian authorities during the reporting period. The government trained 3,028 officials in 2014.
The government increased efforts to identify trafficking victims, but did less to provide protection services. The government identified 50 potential trafficking victims during the first three quarters of 2014, 43 of whom were victims of sexual exploitation and seven were victims of labor exploitation, which may include trafficking crimes; this represented a significant increase from the 15 adult female victims of sex trafficking identified in 2013. Two of the victims identified were children. The victims were predominantly from Central Asia, Eastern Europe, and Syria. Twenty-six victims accepted support services and 24 elected for immediate repatriation, which the government facilitated.
The government demonstrated improved prevention efforts. The government convened its interagency taskforce on combating human trafficking in December 2014 for the first time since 2012; however, the government did not update its 2009 national action plan.
The government continued to fund an international organization-run hotline for trafficking victims and law enforcement tips, and it publicized the phone number on pamphlets and posters in airports and other ports of entry around the country. The government also conducted public outreach on human trafficking in mid-2014 and the TNP published monthly bulletins on antitrafficking issues.