The main form of accommodation used by asylum seekers is private accommodation secured independently. There are no standards or conditions regulated for rented accommodation in Cyprus. Therefore, asylum seekers living in private accommodation may often be living in appalling conditions.1
Overall living conditions in the Kofinou Reception Centre
The Asylum Service is responsible for the operation and financial management of the Kofinou reception centre. A local organisation, the Local Council of Volunteerism of Kofinou (Συμβούλιο Κοινοτικού Εθελοντισμού Κοφίνου), is also involved in the daily management of the Centre, while some services such as catering are provided by contractors. The responsibility for the provision of social support is currently held by a private security company, G4S. The company has been contracted by Asylum Service on a temporary basis, until the procedures of an open call for expressions of interest concerning the provision of both administrative and psycho-social services to the Centre are concluded by the competent governmental authority.
Following its expansion in September 2014, the centre can now host about 350-400 people and at the moment it is full or close to its maximum capacity.
Kofinou Reception Centre consists of containers (mobile / temporary structure), with rooms designated to accommodate 2-4 persons depending on their size. There have been reports of more than 4 members of a family having to reside in one room, but not on a regular basis. Families do not share their rooms, while single persons do. Single men and single women use separate toilets/bathrooms in three detached rooms. Families are placed in containers with two rooms (one for each family) where a common en-suite bathroom / toilet is shared. In the cases of a family with many members, both rooms (i.e. the whole container) can be allocated.
According to reports of residents to FWC, the toilets / bathrooms used by single men/women are cleaned once or twice a day, which is not considered adequate by them, in view of the number of users. Families must clean their own toilets. Residents often complain about shortages in personal hygiene supplies. Complaints of not having enough hot water throughout the day pertain but are rare. There are often reports of insects and snakes appearing in the premises, due to the location of the Centre.
Residents are allowed to use common kitchen areas and equipment. The overall condition of those areas is a source of complaints, as it is not deemed satisfactory. Three meals are provided per day, for which FWC sometimes receives complaints regarding quality, quantity and variety of the food offered. Pork is not served in the centre, although Muslim residents from time to time have expressed their mistrust on whether there is any trace of pork in the food they eat. In cases of sick residents who present a medical report, special dietary arrangements are made. However FWC has received complaints regarding the level of satisfaction from those arrangements.
The rapid increase of asylum seekers admitted in the centre, namely following a sea rescue in 2015, in combination with planning / coordination flaws on attending such increase, led to a shortage of material supplies, such as clothes, detergents, baby food and sanitation products. Individuals, NGOs and other institutions / organisations provide regularly supplies throughout the year, covering most of the demand, although the lack of consistency creates a sense of insecurity among the residents especially families with infants requiring nappies, formula etc., which in turn leads to complaints.
Residents are allowed to go out when they want, provided that they are not out of the centre for prolonged periods of time. There is no special arrangement regarding religious practices of the residents. People visit religious places in the nearby villages/cities. There is not any space allocated to practicing religion inside the Centre.
Over the last year, there have not been any protests by asylum seekers regarding reception conditions, though protests have been carried out in relation to residents’ asylum decisions.
Staff and services
The staff of the centre includes 6 institutional officers, 2 cleaners, 1 person responsible for technical maintenance and a team of three social workers and one administrator, under a private security company (G4S). Permanent staff in the centre has not received special training over the last few years.
Currently, specialised services include: three full-time in-house social workers, one nurse offering services on a daily basis for 6 hours, visits of a mental health nurse three times per week, and a visit of a Health Visitor by the Ministry of health once a week for purposes of raising awareness to the residents regarding healthy lifestyle and personal hygiene. No medical services are offered in the premises and the same applies to psychological/psychiatric support.
Regarding translation services, Arabic interpretation is available on a daily basis. French and Somali translation is available once a week.
FWC occasionally receives complaints related to the number of staff as well as the quality and efficiency of their interaction and communication.
The frequency and variety of educational / leisure activities offered in the centre is low. Most activities are organised and implemented by non-governmental actors, such as NGOs, voluntary organisations and individual volunteers. The activities include English language courses, cultural and art related activities for children and local society orientation seminars. Greek classes for adults are offered twice a week by the Ministry of Education.
Duration of stay
There is no specific duration of stay for asylum seekers in the reception centre. As long as the claimant of material reception conditions retains the status of an asylum seeker, he or she may be referred or obliged to stay in the centre. Based on FWC’s experience, the timeframe for the examination of asylum applications in the first and second instance can be from 6 months to 8 years. Upon the issuance of a negative decision at the administrative appeal, the person is usually notified to make necessary arrangements to depart from Cyprus at once. In that case people are allowed to remain in the reception centre until their removal.
In light of the centre reaching its maximum capacity and as a way to free up resources, the Asylum Service recently announced that residents who complete 6 months of residence in the centre will be given the possibility to apply for reception conditions in the community and move out upon being granted support from the Social Welfare Services. However, due to the unsatisfactory levels of support provided to welfare recipients, residents are reluctant to move into the community. Due to the fact that this practice was only recently introduced and in light of the lack of any decisions regarding the level and type of support and access to labour market granted to asylum seekers, further monitoring is required in order to assess this practice.
- 1. Based on reports from asylum seekers to FWC social advisors and home visits carried out by the advisors.