BRUSSELS - The US has put Cyprus, Estonia and Malta on a "watch list" for failures to stop "severe" levels of human trafficking.
The report, out on Monday (28 June), said "the absolute number of victims of severe forms of trafficking is very significant or is significantly increasing" in the three EU members, but governments are guilty of "failure to provide evidence of increasing efforts" to combat the problem.
Six other EU states - Bulgaria, the Czech republic, Greece, Hungary, Latvia and Romania - were also named and shamed for not meeting US norms.
The EU group-of-nine hold similar or lower ratings than many developing countries such as Guatemala or Malawi.
The majority of EU-aspirant countries in the western Balkans and Turkey, as well as countries seeking EU visa-free travel, such as Moldova, Russia and Ukraine got similarly poor marks.
Speaking in Washington about the report on Monday, secretary of state Hilary Clinton - whose husband Bill Clinton signed into life the Trafficking and Victims Prevention Act when US president, said US diplomats will take backsliders to task.
"This week, US diplomats around the world will be meeting with their host-country governments to review action plans and provide recommendations when needed," she noted. "Even in these tight economic times, we need to look for creative ways to do better."
Zooming in on Cyprus, the survey said sex clubs who use trafficked women from post-Soviet countries, Latin America and Asia and are frequented mostly by Cypriot and Greek men pose a problem.
It added that "the government did not convict or sentence any officials complicit in trafficking in Cyprus, which observers allege continued to be a significant problem."
In Estonia, rural Estonian women are trafficked to sex clubs in Tallinn as well as in Finland, the Netherlands, the United Kingdom, Germany, and Italy. But the government spent just a little over €100,000 in total on victim assistance in 2010.
Looking at the flow of north African migrants to Malta, which increased drastically after the Arab revolutions in early 2011, the state department said: "African migrants currently residing in Malta may be vulnerable to human trafficking in Malta's informal labor market. There were anecdotal reports that Malta may be a transit country for African women subjected to sex trafficking in continental Europe."
In an example of Maltese shortcomings, it cited the case of a Somali woman in July 2010 who complained to police she was being press-ganged into prostitution and got a six-month suspended sentence for possession of false travel permits.