During the administrative and judicial instance of the procedure, asylum seekers have the right to access material reception conditions.
Specifically, according to national legislation, asylum seekers are entitled to material reception conditions as follows:
Regular and accelerated procedure: Asylum seekers are entitled to material reception conditions during both these procedures, although in practice the accelerated procedures are never used. For both procedures asylum seekers are entitled to reception conditions from the making of the application up to the issuance of a decision of the Administrative Court.
Dublin procedure: During the determination procedure to identify the Member State responsible under the Dublin Regulation, a person is considered an asylum seeker.1 According to this if a person arrives in Cyprus and there is a possibility that another Member State is the responsible state, then he or she is considered an asylum seeker and enjoys all such rights including material reception conditions. Regarding asylum seekers returned to Cyprus under the Dublin Regulation, if their asylum case is still under examination, they will be entitled to material reception conditions and are usually transferred to Kofinou Reception Centre. If their asylum application has been determined, they are not entitled to reception conditions and may be detained.
Appeals: Appeals before the Administrative Court entail access to reception conditions until the issuance of the court’s decision.
Subsequent application: When a rejected asylum seeker submits a subsequent application or new elements to his or her initial claim, the authorities will first examine the admissibility of such an application or new elements. During this stage people are not considered asylum seekers and are not entitled to reception conditions. If the application or new elements are considered admissible then the person resumes status as an asylum seeker for the substantial examination of the new application or new elements and is entitled to material reception conditions.
According to the recently amended Refugee Law,2 when an application is made, the Aliens and Immigration Unit refers the applicant to the district Social Welfare Office and by presenting a Confirmation that the application has been made,3 the applicant has a right to submit an application for the provision of material reception conditions. However according to another provision of the law,4 the Confirmation that the application has been made is provided 3 days after the application is actually lodged. Furthermore the law allows 6 days to elapse between making and lodging an application.5 The transposition of the recast Reception Conditions and Asylum Procedures Directives into the Refugee Law is problematic as regards the distinction between “making” and “lodging” an application and as a result the point in time when access to reception conditions is actually provided.
The amendment has not changed the practice and there is no distinction between making and lodging an application. As before, when persons present themselves to the Aliens and Immigration Unit, stating the intention to apply for asylum they are either permitted to immediately lodge the application or requested to return on another day. If permitted to immediately lodge the application, they are also provided with a confirmation on the same day that they have done so and have access to reception conditions with this confirmation. If requested to return on another day they are not provided with any document and for the period during which the applicant does not possess the confirmation, he or she does not have access to material reception conditions. In cases of emergency, people have been referred to the reception centre without possessing this document but this does not apply when it comes to accessing reception conditions from Welfare Services.
In the previous version of the Refugee Law, the conditions for granting and the level of material conditions were not provided by the law, but instead were included in an application form for the provision of material reception conditions,6 issued as a Notification by the Council of Ministers.7 This Notification has always been considered problematic as it sets additional requirements not foreseen in the law. In addition, the Regulations did afford to the Council of Ministers the power to determine the conditions and the level of assistance provided.8 Therefore the conditions as well as the level of assistance foreseen in the Notification also lack any legal basis. With the recent amendment to the Refugee Law,9 the Notification and the relevant application form are no longer in effect, however the application and all elements included are still used in practice.
The amended Law provides that material reception conditions are provided to applicants to ensure an adequate standard of living capable of ensuring the subsistence and physical and mental health. No other provisions are included in the Law determining the conditions and level of assistance provided. According to the relevant authorities as before, a decision will be made at ministerial level determining both the conditions and level of assistance, which will once again be beyond the provisions of the Law.
Reception conditions are provided in kind and/or vouchers. If this is not possible they can be provided through financial allowance by the Social Welfare Services. In practice, if there is no vacancy in the reception centre, asylum seekers are allowed to file an application at the Social Welfare Services. Social Welfare Services’ decision on assisting a person or on deducting or refusing reception conditions depends on the individualised evaluation of whether he or she possesses sufficient resources to ensure his or her subsistence and to secure an adequate standard of living in regards to his or her health.10
As mentioned above the eligibility requirements, the level of assistance and reasons for the termination of material assistance are regulated in the Notification,11 which albeit no longer in effect is still used in practice.
The Welfare Services also require the applicant to submit the alien registration number, which may be issued a few weeks after the issuance of the Confirmation of Submission of an application for International Protection, as well as other documents which may not be available at the time of the application for reception conditions. Although the requirement of submitting those documents is no longer in effect after the recent amendment of the Refugee Law, it still applies in practice.
There is no assessment of the risk of destitution either during the examination of the application for assistance or before a decision is issued to terminate assistance. In practice the sufficiency and adequacy of resources that can ensure a dignified standard of living are not taken into account. For example, if any of the applicants secure employment, the provision of material reception conditions are immediately terminated without taking into account the sufficiency of the remuneration to cover the basic and/or special needs of applicants and their family members. This situation often forces asylum seekers into destitution.
A number of major obstacles encountered by asylum seekers in accessing material reception conditions that ultimately hinder access to reception conditions:
Submission of documentation in order to apply for material reception conditions: If there is no vacancy in the reception centre, an application form for the provision of material reception conditions can be lodged at Social Welfare Services. Denial on behalf of the asylum seeker to accept the referral to the reception centre results in termination of any assistance.
The above mentioned application requires the mandatory submission of 8 types of documentation for the applicant and each member of their family, before the Social Welfare Services start the examination process.12 These include: an unemployment card from the District Labour office or medical certificate of inability to work from the Public Healthcare Unit; a rent/lease agreement although the claimant may be homeless; confirmation of school attendance of the dependents; and a confirmation from the Asylum Service that there is no availability at the reception centre to host the claimant. Also, in order for rent to be subsidised, the landlord is expected to submit tax details on the rented property, otherwise asylum seekers can be deprived from their right to secure housing. The obligation to secure the above documentation can impede the access of asylum seekers to material conditions.
It should be noted that currently, in practice, the unemployment card is not required for asylum seekers who have not completed 6 months from the date of submission of their application for asylum, although the amended Refugee Law has extended this to 9 months. Also the confirmation that there is no availability at the reception centre to host the claimant by the Asylum Service is often confirmed by direct telephone communication between Welfare Services and the Asylum Service. Finally, it is necessary to note that the Notification regarding the abovementioned documentation is no longer in effect, following the recent amendment of the law. However, it is still used in practice until the issue is regulated.
Systematic delays in examining the application and granting the assistance: Currently, the average processing time of the application for material reception conditions at Social Services is between 1 to 3 months, due to various administrative difficulties including staff shortage. In practice, most delays are regarding the issuance of rent subsidies and the issuance of an allowance to cover electricity, water and minor expenses. The issuance of vouchers is in most cases timely (see Forms and Levels of Material Conditions).
Mandatory information on place of residence: In order to submit the application for material assistance a valid residential address must be provided, thus excluding homeless asylum seekers from accessing material assistance. In addition, the practical difficulties of obtaining certain requirements such as a rental agreement and the property’s tax details, are not taken into consideration by Welfare Services during the application submission process.
Additionally, it is important to note that in practice, asylum seekers are permanently denied access to material assistance by Social Welfare Services, in instances where they refuse to take up accommodation and material reception conditions offered at the reception centre. Due to lack of adequate screening and assessment procedures, this may include vulnerable persons for whom the reception centre is not suitable and may not cover adequately their needs either due to the facilities itself or the fact that it is located in a remote area far from services.
Coverage of material conditions by Welfare Services is terminated when an asylum seeker and/or his or her spouse is deemed “wilfully unemployed”, upon referral to a job by the Employment office. A person can be deemed wilfully unemployed in instances where he or she rejects a job offer, regardless of the reason. Such reasons may include not being able to immediately take up work because it is located in a remote place with no transportation available (bus, car etc.), not being able to move to a new property near work due to lack of funds, not being able to secure a written answer from an employer regarding the outcome of a referral, even when it is the employer’s fault, not being able to immediately secure childcare due to lack of funds etc.
All the above apply in the cases of single parent families as well as other vulnerable persons who are unable to work. Usually, two “unjustified” denials of employment are needed to terminate the material assistance provided by the Welfare Services (outside a reception facility). In such cases, the only alternative for the person/family is either to move to the reception centre (if there is a vacancy) or wait for approximately 6 months before being able to apply again to Welfare Services. The exact time of waiting before a new application can be lodged varies between Welfare Officers and the district office where the application is submitted. This is a very common reason for file termination in Welfare Services and according to the Future Worlds Centre experience, the most frequent reason for exclusion from accessing reception conditions by asylum seekers. Although the above policy is no longer in effect due to the recent amendment of the Refugee Law, it is still implemented in practice until further notice.
- 1. Article 11(B)(2) Refugee Law.
- 2. Article 9IA(3) Refugee Law.
- 3. The confirmation provided is titled ‘Confirmation of Submission of an Application for International’ Protection”.
- 4. Article 8(1)(b) Refugee Law.
- 5. Article 11(4)(a) Refugee Law.
- 6. KDP/2013 Published on 9/7/2013 in the Official Gazette of the Republic of Cyprus as a Notification by the Council of Ministers by virture of Regulation 14(3) Refugee (Asylum Seekers’ Reception Conditions) Regulations 2005-2013.
- 7. Ministry of Labour and Social Insurance, Application for Material Reception Conditions of Applicants for International Protection (Αίτηση για Κάλυψη Υλικών Συνθηκών Υποδοχής Σε Αιτητές Διεθνούς Προστασίας), available at: http://bit.ly/1Sp11tQ.
- 8. Refugee (Asylum Seekers’ Reception Conditions) Regulations 2005-2013.
- 9. Note 35(1)(δ) Refugee Law.
- 10. Article 9IA(4)(a) Refugee Law.
- 11. Ministry of Labour and Social Insurance, Application for Material Reception Conditions of Applicants for International Protection (Αίτηση για Κάλυψη Υλικών Συνθηκών Υποδοχής Σε Αιτητές Διεθνούς Προστασίας), available at: http://bit.ly/1Sp11tQ.
- 12. Ministry of Labour and Social Insurance, Application for Material Reception Conditions of Applicants for International Protection (Αίτηση για Κάλυψη Υλικών Συνθηκών Υποδοχής Σε Αιτητές Διεθνούς Προστασίας), available at: http://bit.ly/1Sp11tQ.