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Overseas Security Advisory Council
Bureau of Diplomatic Security
U.S. Department of State

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Cyprus 2020 Crime & Safety Report

This is an annual report produced in conjunction with the Regional Security Office at the U.S. Embassy in Nicosia. OSAC encourages travelers to use this report to gain baseline knowledge of security conditions in Cyprus. For more in-depth information, review OSAC’s Cyprus country page for original OSAC reporting, consular messages, and contact information, some of which may be available only to private-sector representatives with an OSAC password.

Travel Advisory

The current U.S. Department of State Travel Advisory at the date of this report’s publication assesses Cyprus at Level 1, indicating travelers should exercise normal precautions. Do not attempt to enter the United Nations buffer zone at any place other than a designated crossing point. Police and UN forces strictly enforce this restriction. Review OSAC’s report, Understanding the Consular Travel Advisory System.

Overall Crime and Safety Situation

Crime Threats

The U.S. Department of State has assessed Nicosia as being a MEDIUM-threat location for crime directed at or affecting official U.S. government interests. Cyprus is generally a safe country that experiences less violent crime than other European countries. However, crimes of opportunity do occur. Most street crimes are non-violent and non-confrontational, ranging from scams to petty theft. Street criminals are generally unarmed and not prone to gratuitous violence. Criminal activity in the northern part of Cyprus is reportedly low. The highest number of robberies in the Turkish-Cypriot administrated area occurred in Kyrenia, Famagusta, and northern Nicosia. Nationwide, tourist areas can experience petty crime. Rates of street crimes (e.g. pickpocketing, purse snatching) remain steady. Muggings and armed robberies are uncommon, but stories about these incidents have appeared in local media. Thefts of valuables left in plain sight in unattended vehicles do occur. The number of opportunistic crimes (e.g. pickpocketing, purse snatching, car break-in, robbery, home burglary) rises during the holidays and the summer when many homes are vacant. Sexual assaults are uncommon, but have occurred. Review OSAC’s reports, All That You Should Leave Behind.

Although residential burglaries occur infrequently, police sources reported a noticeable increase in attempted burglaries during 2018. Burglars are more likely to target empty residences and homes without an alarm or other security precautions (e.g. shutters, additional locks on doors/windows). Burglaries of commercial establishments (e.g. jewelry shops, convenience stores, and sometimes banks) have also occurred.

Incidents linked to organized crime are a concern. Criminal incidents involving improvised explosive devices (IEDs), incendiary devices, and small arms, primarily attributed to organized crime, occur infrequently. Online gambling is the originating cause of many crimes, including loan sharking, threats, blackmail, and even kidnapping. Sporadic bombings, shootings, and arson have occurred since 2010. These incidents typically involve conflicts between rival organized crime groups and are not associated with terrorism. The attacks usually mean to send a message to an intended recipient, but occasionally cause injury or fatality. These incidents have normally occurred in the late evening or early morning hours, but may occur at any time. Most of the reported IEDs did not result in an explosion.

Cyprus is a trafficking destination for persons subjected to forced prostitution and labor. The government-controlled Republic of Cyprus (ROC) is a destination for sex trafficking, which occurs in private apartments and hotels, on the street, and within commercial sex outlets. Domestic laborers, agricultural workers, and foreign migrants are vulnerable for trafficking for forced labor. In the unrecognized “Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus,” (“TRNC”) sex trafficking is a significant problem. While prostitution is illegal under “TRNC” law, a trafficking “law” does not exist; nightclub workers, who live at the clubs, regularly report that employers seize their passports, leaving them little freedom of movement. Groups vulnerable to forced labor include domestic workers, asylum seekers, and foreign migrants working in the construction and agricultural sectors. There are currently 319 foreign women working on “barmaid visas” in the north. “TRNC” authorities issued approximately 1,600 “barmaid pre-permits” to nightclubs in 2019, which then convert into “permits” after the prospective employee arrives and undergoes a health examination. Night clubs have also presented foreign patrons with grossly-inflated bar tabs, threatening customers who refuse to pay with bodily harm.

Cybersecurity Issues

Fraud-related crimes remain low in relation to population size, but cybercrimes are increasing. Cybersecurity should be a priority for any organization operating in Cyprus. OSAC cannot overstress the importance of using only legitimate software.

Financial crimes conducted over the internet have increased as scammers attempt to convince you to send them money. These fraudulent schemes can include claims that make it appear you are helping a loved one or a friend who has been injured or is in trouble, online dating/social networking services, inheritance notices, work permits/job offers, and claims of bank overpayments. Review OSAC’s reports, Cybersecurity Basics, Best Practices for Maximizing Security on Public Wi-Fi, and Traveling with Mobile Devices: Trends & Best Practices.

Transportation-Safety Situation

Road Safety and Road Conditions 

Driving is on the left. A combination of human factors, poor road designs, and a general disregard for safe driving practices result in hazardous conditions for both pedestrians and motorists. Defensive driving is essential, as many drivers do not adhere to traffic regulations and are extremely aggressive. Incidents of reckless driving and road rage (e.g. tailgating, honking, shouting) occasionally result in traffic accidents and physical altercations.

Serious traffic accidents are a regular occurrence throughout Cyprus. Motorcycles and scooters normally drive between lanes and weave in/out of traffic at high speeds. Cyprus’s traffic fatality rate is among the highest in the European Union, primarily due to aggressive driving.

Pedestrians should take particular care, as sidewalks are frequently absent or narrow, and filled with potholes and tripping hazards. Where sidewalks do not exist, people walk and bike on the road, causing serious safety issues. Pedestrian crossings at intersections designated by zebra stripes are difficult to see. Drivers often ignore a pedestrian's right of way.

Major roads in the larger cities are in relatively good condition, and street signs are usually written in both English and Greek. In most cases, secondary roads are narrow two-lane strips with little/no shoulder. Street signs (when present) are small and offer little navigational value. Most drivers learn locations by landmarks rather than street signs.

In the north, two-lane roads are mostly narrow, with little/no shoulder. Street signs mostly contain Turkish wording, with some in English. Street signs and most GPS offer little assistance in navigation.

The opening and closing of businesses and schools also affects traffic in Nicosia. Many stores close for one to two hours at lunchtime, and public schools let out at about 1300, causing midday traffic. Rush hour is from 0700-0830, during lunchtime, and again from 1500-1800. Rush hour begins even earlier on Wednesday afternoons, when many offices close at approximately 1330.

Due to the lack of public transportation, traffic is particularly problematic in Nicosia, where there are too many cars for the road system to handle. Traffic accidents often coincide with rush hour, and parking is difficult in congested areas downtown.

The use of seat belts (in front seats) and child car seats is mandatory. The use of cellular phones while driving is prohibited unless used with some form of hands-free kit. Motorcyclists must wear helmets, and all drivers must carry liability insurance.

In the event of a car accident, immediately contact the vehicle insurance company or the car rental agency to file a police report. Although you do not have to file a police report in a minor fender bender where both parties’ car insurance companies can handle the situation, you must file a police report if there is serious damage or bodily injury involved. It is common for the police to request that a driver accompany them to the nearest police station to complete an accident report. In the “TRNC,” immediately contact the vehicle insurance company or the car rental agency and file a police report.

Review OSAC’s reports, Road Safety Abroad, Driving Overseas: Best Practices, and Evasive Driving Techniques; and read the State Department’s webpage on driving and road safety abroad.

Public Transportation Conditions

Public transportation consists of bus service that travels throughout the island. Buses are safe and inexpensive, but service is limited in the ROC and the “TRNC.” Taxis are widely available. Review OSAC’s report, Security In Transit: Airplanes, Public Transport, and Overnights.

Aviation/Airport Conditions

The ROC has two major international airports: one in Larnaca (LCA) and another in Paphos (PFO). Both airports meet international standards for safety and security. Ercan International Airport (ECN), which is not an ROC-recognized entrypoint into Cyprus, serves the “TRNC;” entering via Ercan can create issues for travelers who plan to visit the ROC.

Terrorism Threat

The U.S. Department of State has assessed Nicosia as being a MEDIUM-threat location for terrorism directed at or affecting official U.S. government interests. International terrorism continues to be a concern, as authorities only lightly scrutinize movement between EU member countries. Cyprus has vulnerabilities associated with the de facto political division of the island and the relative ease with which people can move across the buffer zone undetected.

Credible information indicates terrorist groups continue plotting possible near-term attacks in Europe. All European countries remain potentially vulnerable to attacks from transnational terrorist organizations, although there have been no recent terrorist attacks in Cyprus. Terrorist groups, including their associates, and those inspired by such organizations, are intent on attacking U.S. citizens abroad. Terrorists are increasingly using less sophisticated methods of attack -- including edged weapons, pistols, and vehicles – to more effectively target crowds. Frequently, their aim is unprotected or vulnerable targets.

In 2012 and 2015, ROC authorities disrupted two Lebanese Hizb’allah operations. In both cases, suspected targets were never determined or made known, but these incidents highlighted the ability of the Cypriot National Police to detect and deter terrorist operations.

Political, Economic, Religious, and Ethnic Violence

The U.S. Department of State has assessed Nicosia as being a MEDIUM-threat location for political violence directed at or affecting official U.S. government interests.

Civil Unrest

The prospect of violent demonstrations and large-scale civil disorder is unlikely. Demonstrations in support of international movements such as world peace and the environment are common, largely peaceful, and focus on government buildings. Protesters tend to occupy streets and block the flow of traffic. Economic conditions in the north have also led to demonstrations, primarily by public sector workers. Overall, in 2019, demonstrations were largely non-violent and resulted only in a few minor injuries and a small number of arrests.

Religious/Ethnic Violence 

Although uncommon, incidents of ethnic violence have occurred in the ROC. There were a few incidents of violence against Turkish Cypriots traveling to ROC-controlled areas.

Anti-U.S./Anti-Western Sentiment

Demonstrations against the United States in recent decades have been non-violent and focused on the U.S. foreign policy in the region. None of the demonstrations hindered the activities of U.S. private-sector organization.

Post-specific Concerns

Environmental Hazards

The possibility of earthquakes is a concern, as Cyprus is located in the world’s second most earthquake-prone zone. Minor tremors occur regularly, but most are imperceptible. There are 8-10 moderate quakes per year, with the risk of a major quake ever-present. Most houses are constructed accordingly. The Earthquake Country Alliance provides information on earthquake preparedness.

Critical Infrastructure Concerns

Cyprus has a good track record in industrial and transportation safety, and follows EU guidelines. The lead ROC agency overseeing industrial and transport safety is the Department of Labor Inspection, which works closely with the private sector to ensure that best practices are followed in all sectors. Located at Apelli 12, 2nd Floor, 1480 Nicosia, Tel. +357-22-405700, +357-22-405630, E-mail: director@dli.mlsi.gov.cy.

Economic Espionage/Intellectual Property Theft

Economic espionage concerns are on par with other EU countries. The private sector should take care to ensure the confidentiality and integrity of data by following normal best business practices, including use of authorized IT software.

The ROC has robust Intellectual Property Rights (IPR) legislation, including on copyright, allowing the sampling of evidence and facilitating prosecution of violators. Merchandise piracy has decreased significantly in recent years, largely due to aggressive enforcement by the Department of Customs and the police.

The IPR situation in the “TRNC” is far worse than in the ROC. IPR legislation is antiquated, and the authorities have shown little initiative to combat piracy.

Privacy Concerns

Business and banking information processing tends to be professional. The Embassy is not aware of any particular privacy concerns arising from widespread misuse of such information. Contact the  Office of the Commissioner for Personal Data Protection to obtain information on addressing privacy concerns at 40, Themistokli Dervi str., Natassa Court, 3rd floor, 1066 Nicosia, Tel: +357-22-818456, Email: commissioner@dataprotection.gov.cy.

Personal Identity Concerns

While most travelers do not encounter problems, a few instances over the last few years noted travelers had faced discrimination due to race, sexual orientation, and nationality.

There are no legal restrictions on same-sex sexual relations or the organization of LGBTI+ events in the Republic of Cyprus or in the “TRNC.” Despite broad legal protections, LGBTI+ individuals sometimes face societal discrimination, and few are open about their sexual orientation or gender identity. Although public attitudes tend to be socially conservative in Cyprus, the U.S. Embassy has not received reports of violence against LGBTI+ travelers.Review the State Department’s webpage on security for LGBTI+ travelers.

The ROC’s People with Disabilities Law mandates that public buildings and tourist facilities built after 1999 be accessible to all. Older buildings frequently lack access for persons with disabilities. Narrow or nonexistent sidewalks and lack of transport, parking spaces, accessible toilets, and elevators all pose problems for persons with disabilities. ROC law prohibits discrimination against persons with disabilities in employment, education, access to health care, or in the provision of other state services. For information on accessible travel in Cyprus, visit Accessible Cyprus. Review the State Department’s webpage on security for travelers with disabilities.

Drug-related Crimes

The number of drug-related crimes has decreased slightly over the last few years. While illegal drug activity is low by most standards, immigration and customs officials continue to report increases in the amount of illegal drugs (e.g. hashish, marijuana, cocaine, methamphetamine) detected at ports of entry. With the opening of the crossing points through the UN-patrolled buffer zone in 2003, it became easier to smuggle drugs from “TRNC” to the government-controlled areas. Penalties for the importation and/or sale of illegal drugs, even in small quantities, are severe. Incidents of drug-related violent crime are sporadic.

Other Issues

The UN must authorize access to the UN-controlled buffer zone. Crossing into the buffer zone between the north and south is illegal outside of the authorized crossing points. Never photograph military installations or anything that could be perceived as being of a security interest. Pay particular attention to areas marked with “no photography” signs. Police on both sides of the island strictly enforce these restrictions. Review OSAC’s report, Picture This: Dos and Don’ts for Photography.

Police Response

The emergency line in the ROC is 199. Additionally, 112 is also available in an emergency; this is a pan-European number that can reach emergency services – medical, fire, police – from any landline, pay phone, or cellular phone in Europe. In the “TRNC,” emergency contact number for the police is 155. For local first responders, refer to the Embassy’s Emergency Assistance page. Download the State Department’s Crime Victims Assistance brochure.

ROC Divisional Police Headquarters:

Nicosia: +357-22 80 20 20

Limassol: +357-25 80 50 50

Larnaka: +357-24 80 40 40

Paphos: +357-26 80 60 60

Ammochostos: +357-23 80 30 30

ROC Police/Citizens Communication Line: 1460

The Cyprus National Police is a centralized, national organization under the Ministry of Justice and Public Order. Headquartered in Nicosia, it is headed by a Chief of Police. The organizational structure has four main departments: Training, Administration, Support, and Operations. Under that structure, the police department has seven regional divisions covering the ROC. All areas of policing and law enforcement (i.e. immigration, emergency response, airport security, seaport police, criminal investigations, drug enforcement) fall under the Cyprus National Police, which is capable and sufficiently trained. The emergency response unit (MAAD), responsible for riot control, major events, and counterterrorism, is highly trained and maintains a solid reputation.

Medical Emergencies

Find contact information for available medical services and available air ambulance services on the U.S. Embassy website.

If traveling with prescription medication, check with the Republic of Cyprus to ensure the medication is legal in Cyprus. Always carry your prescription medication in original packaging with your doctor’s prescription. You should similarly confirm with authorities in the “TRNC” to ensure any medication you are carrying will not present problems. Contact the “Drug and Pharmacy Office” at +90392-2284156 or +90392-2284001.

The dry air on the island may aggravate respiratory ailments and allergies.

The CDC offers additional information on vaccines and health guidance for Cyprus.

OSAC Country Council Information

The Nicosia Country Council currently meets once a year and has approximately ten members. Contact OSAC’s Europe team for more information or to join.

U.S. Embassy Contact Information

Metochoiu & Ploutachou Streets, 2407 Engomi, Nicosia

Regular hours: 0800 – 1300, Monday – Friday

Telephone: +357-22-39-3939.

Regional Security Office: +357-22-39-3548.

American Citizen Services (during business hours): +357-22-39-3353.

Marine Post One: +357-22-39-3300.

Website: https://cy.usembassy.gov/

Helpful Information

Before you travel, consider the following resources:

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