Special reception needs of vulnerable groups

Cyprus

Author

FutureWorldsCenter (FWC)

As of October 2016, the amended Refugee Law extends the categories of persons considered as vulnerable to include those mentioned in Article 21 of the recast Reception Conditions Directive:1

“[M]inors, unaccompanied minors, disabled people, elderly people, pregnant women, single parents with minor children, victims of human trafficking, persons with serious illnesses, persons with mental disorders and persons who have been subjected to torture, rape or other serious forms of psychological, physical or sexual violence, such as victims of female genital mutilation.”

The law also introduces an identification mechanism, specifically it provides that an individual assessment shall be carried out to determine whether a specific person has special reception needs and/or requires special procedural guarantees, and the nature of those needs.2 These individualised assessments should be performed within a reasonable time period during the early stages of applying for asylum, and the requirement to address special reception needs and/or special procedural guarantees applies at any time such needs are identified or ascertained.

The amended Refugee Law also provides that any special reception / procedural needs of applicants, identified by any competent governmental authority upon exercising its duties, need to be reported to the Asylum Service. It also provides a basic overview of the procedure to be followed: specifically, the competent officer at the place where the claim of asylum is made fills a special document indicating any special reception and/or procedural needs of the claimant as well as the nature of such needs. The type of that document is not specified in the law but according to the Asylum Service it has been provided.

The Refugee Law also provides that during the preliminary medical tests which are performed to all asylum seekers, a report will be prepared by the examining doctor, a psychologist or another expert, indicating any special reception / procedural needs of the applicant and their nature. Furthermore, within a reasonable time period from the admission of a claimant in a reception centre and following personal interviews, the social workers and psychologists working in the facility will prepare a relevant report to the Asylum Service indicating any special reception needs as well as their nature. Finally, the Social Welfare Services are required to identify any special reception needs and report them to Asylum Service, but that applies in case an asylum seeker presents him or herself to Social Services and “whenever this is possible”.

The above amendments acknowledge the need of timely identifying and addressing the special reception and procedural needs of vulnerable persons and introduce a basic framework of operation. However, further elaboration is required in order for an effective mechanism to be set up. In the absence of specific legislative or procedural guidelines, the identification and assessment of special reception and procedural needs take place fragmentally, while the assessment tools and approaches to be used are neither defined nor standardised. Relevant to that, there is no provision for training of the staff engaged in the identification and assessment procedure, and the role of Social Welfare and Health Services – being the most competent state authorities in relation to evaluating the needs of vulnerable persons – is rather confined. No monitoring mechanism of the overall procedure is foreseen which could contribute to the efficient and timely coordination among the involved agencies.

Furthermore, although persons, whose special reception needs and/or procedural needs are identified and assessed, should receive appropriate support within a reasonable time frame,3 the exact level, type or kind of support is not specified in the law.

Currently the Asylum Service has provided a relevant form and trained the authorities were asylum applications are made as well as other authorities (Labour Office, Social Welfare Services, and others) to identify vulnerable persons or indications that a person may be vulnerable. However, this is limited to visible signs and there is no other assessment tool used. Due to this, vulnerable persons and their special reception and/or procedural needs are still identified in a non-standardised manner. This might happen during people’s contact with the Welfare Services, during the interview for the examination of the asylum application and by local NGOs offering community services and support. There are no available statistics or official information on the effectiveness of this procedure. From information provided by vulnerable asylum seekers, it is not effective.4

The lack of an effective identification procedure prevents or delays (depending on the specific vulnerability and support consequently required) access to any available support, which in itself is limited. In cases of victims of torture or violence, the lack of access to support will often impair the efficient examination of asylum applications, since they do not receive prior counselling psychological or legal that may assist them to present their asylum claim adequately. The lack of effective measures for the timely identification specifically of victims of torture was recently noted by the UN Committee against Torture,5 and more recently by the Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights, Nils Muižnieks,6 who also raised his concerns on issues related to the lack of identification procedure of vulnerable persons, including unaccompanied children.

Unaccompanied children who have applied for asylum are not placed in the reception centre and are referred to shelters for children run by the State. There have been a few cases of unaccompanied children being placed in foster families or with other adults on a temporary basis, though this is very rare.7 There are no reported instances of potential children placed into common accommodation with adults while undergoing age assessment procedures.

In relation to preventing gender-based violence in the reception centre, the amended Refugee Law provides that the competent authorities shall take into consideration gender and age-specific concerns and the situation of vulnerable persons and that appropriate measures shall be taken in order to prevent assault and gender-based violence, including sexual assault and harassment.8 Up until today, there are no specific guidelines or procedures in effect to guarantee the efficient implementation of those provisions and further monitoring is required.

Regarding family unity, overall efforts are made to keep families together. When it comes to welfare services and reception centres, families are treated as an entity.

For the purpose of receiving proper education, the needs of children with disabilities are identified and assessed by the Ministry of Education in the context of their obligation towards children with special needs.

  • 1. Article 9KΓ Refugee Law.
  • 2. Articles 9KΔ(a) and 10A Refugee Law.
  • 3. Article 9KΔ Refugee Law.
  • 4. Based on information provided by the FWC.
  • 5. UNCAT, Concluding Observations on the Fourth Report of Cyprus, 21 May 2014.
  • 6. Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights, Report following the visit to Cyprus from 7 to 11 December 2015, CommDH(2016)16, 31 March 2016, available at: http://bit.ly/2mcxpec.
  • 7. Commissioner for the Protection of Children’s Rights, Report of the Commissioner for Children’s Rights in Cyprus to the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child – Supplementary Report to the 3rd and 4th Periodic Report of Cyprus, September 2011, available at: http://bit.ly/1HwkyWf, 33.
  • 8. Article 9IΔ(7) Refugee Law.

About AIDA

The Asylum Information Database (AIDA) is a database managed by the European Council on Refugees and Exiles (ECRE), containing information on asylum procedures, reception conditions, detenti