Access to the territory and push backs

Cyprus

Country Report: Access to the territory and push backs Last updated: 28/04/21

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A high percentage of asylum seekers enter Cyprus from the areas not controlled by the RoC, in the north of the island, and then cross the “green line”/no-man’s land to the areas under the control of the RoC. According to EASO, in 2020, the Agency supported 71% of all registrations for international protection in Cyprus, the majority of which (64%) concerned irregular entries crossing the “green line”.[1]

The “green line” is not considered a border and although there are authorised points of crossing, these are not considered official entry points into the RoC. Crossing of the “green line” is regulated under the “Green Line” Regulation.[2] A certain number of persons may enter at legal entry points and then apply for asylum, whereas about 30% of applicants are persons already in the country who have entered and stayed under other statuses such as domestic workers, students etc, and apply for asylum when their initial residence permit has expired.

If a person has entered the areas in the north without permission from the authorities in the north, they may be arrested and returned to Turkey and, from Turkey, possibly returned to their country of origin. As the acquis is suspended in the areas in the north,[3] there is no asylum system in force. In order to cross the “green line” through the points of crossing, a person needs a valid visa and will be checked by police acting in the north followed by RoC Police. As the vast majority of persons seeking asylum do not have such a visa, they cross the “green line” in an irregular manner, often with the help of smugglers.

In 2018, it was noted that the number of persons irregularly crossing the line increased,[4] and that the situation needed to be monitored carefully.[5] In 2019, with the numbers of applicants for international protection doubling once again from the 2018 numbers (13,259 first-time applicants applied for asylum in 2019) the government stated that changes would be made to the Green Line Regulation[6]. In addition, in March 2020 the Council of Ministers declared General Measures in the form of an Action Plan which specifically stated that a request for financial support to the European Commission would be sent for the period 2020-2021 to cover the required operating and administrative costs and equipment for surveillance of the coastline and the Green line. However, it is still not clear what changes will be made and how these will impact the entry of persons, the majority of whom cross at unofficial points. During 2020, the official crossing points were closed as a measure to prevent the spread of the coronavirus, however as the majority of asylum seekers cross at irregular points, this did not have an impact on arrivals.

In March 2021 the Ministry of Interior installed razor wire along the “green line” under the justification of stemming migrant crossings from the north to the areas under the effective control of the Republic of Cyprus. This measure led to criticism within Cyprus as it implies the delineation of borders and further legitimises the division of Cyprus, as well as, that the issue of migration will not be solved by fences. Furthermore, the measures led to reactions from the European Commission as it had not been informed contrary to the Article 10 of the Green Line Regulation that provides that “any change in the policy of the government of the republic of Cyprus on crossings of persons or goods shall only become effective after the proposed changes have been notified to the Commission and the Commission has not objected to these changes within one month”.[7]

If a person who has entered the north reaches the authorities of RoC and expresses the intention to apply for asylum, he or she will be referred to the Aliens and Immigration Unit in order to lodge an application. If the person has been in the RoC before and had been forcefully or voluntarily returned, or in cases of persons remaining irregularly, they may be arrested and detained. However, they will be given access to the asylum procedure in most cases, if requested.

People apprehended by the police within areas under the control of the RoC before applying for asylum may be arrested for irregular entry and/or stay, regardless of whether they were intending to apply for asylum, even if they were on their way to apply for asylum and have only been in the country for a few days. In recent years the number of persons being arrested in such circumstances is low and specifically for Syrian nationals they will not be arrested unless there are indications of a criminal act such as smuggling.

Besides arrivals from the north, a smaller number of asylum seekers enter the RoC at official points of entry (ports and airports). Since 2016, there have also been small boat arrivals of about 15-45 persons reaching either the areas in the north – with persons then passing into the areas under the control of the RoC – or arriving directly in the areas under the control of the RoC. The majority of boats come from Turkey, with a smaller number from Lebanon or Syria. In 2017, there were 9 such arrivals whereas in 2018 the number of such boat arrivals was over 30. In 2019, there were 11 boat arrivals, with a total of 427 persons. A significant number of persons arriving by these boats are relatives of persons already residing in Cyprus, often including spouses and underage children of persons with subsidiary protection. This is partly due to the fact that the vast majority of Syrians are granted subsidiary protection and this status, since 2014, does not have access to Family Reunification. Additionally, the route of arrival through the north has become harder and/or more expensive to access. Therefore, for many people irregular boat arrivals are seen as the cheaper way or the only way to bring their immediate family.

In 2020, the Cypriot authorities, for the first time, carried out push-backs of boats carrying mainly Syrians, Lebanese and Palestinians who had departed from Turkey or Lebanon. In total 9 push backs were carried with one more attempt to push-back a boat in Decembe 2020r, but due to damages the boat was eventually rescued.

In March 2020, the first push-back took place concerning 175 Syrians, of whom 69 were children, on a boat originating from Turkey.[8] Covid-19 was used as a justification for this measure. Reportedly, the authorities identified the boat prior to reaching the shores of the RoC. Officers in uniform wielding guns boarded the boat, seized the mobile devices of the people on board, threw the devices overboard and directed the boat to leave the territorial waters of the RoC and return to Syria. Later on during the day the boat reached the shore in the areas not effectively controlled by the Republic and the concerned persons were transferred to a stadium for the weekend. All returned a negative Covid-19 test and were eventually deported to Turkey.

In June 2020, the second pushback took place with a boat carrying 30 people. The boat was intercepted by the coast guard which remained in the area until the boat headed toward the north. The third pushback took place in July with a boat carrying 10 Syrians. Once again the boat was intercepted by the coast guard and eventually it headed to the north. People from the third boat were later reported to have crossed from the north through unguarded sections of the “green-line” and were found in Pournara First Reception Centre.[9]

In August and September 2020, 9 boats from Lebanon carrying 202 persons reached the RoC. During the same period, another 6 boats with approximately 243 persons left Lebanon and attempted to reach Cyprus. However, they were pushed back or deported to Lebanon after being taken to shore due to damages in the boats but were not given access to asylum procedures.[10] Following the request for interim measures by the NGO KISA, the European Court of Human Rights requested information from the Cypriot government.[11]

There were other reported attempts of boats trying to reach Cyprus from Lebanon, but these were unsuccessful. One such boat was rescued by UNFIL after being at sea for 7 days and 3 persons lost their lives, including a young child, while 14 remained missing at sea.[12]

In December 2020, another attempt to pushback a boat with 38 persons from Syria was carried out, however due to unsafe conditions the boat was allowed to reach shore.[13] In January 2021, a boat with 26 Syrians attempted to reach the areas under the effective control of the RoC but according to media reports the coast guard provided the boat with food and fuel and did not allow it to approach the shore.[14]

In early 2021, in a letter addressed to the Minister of Interior of Cyprus, the Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights, Dunja Mijatović urged the Cypriot authorities to ensure that independent and effective investigations are carried out into allegations of pushbacks and of ill-treatment of arriving migrants, including persons who may be in need of international protection, by members of security forces. Commissioner Mijatović also called on the Cypriot authorities to bring conditions in reception facilities for asylum seekers and migrants in line with the applicable human rights standards and to ensure that applicants enjoy effective access to all necessary services. With particular reference to restrictions on freedom of movement which are applied as a preventive measure against the Covid-19 pandemic to the residents of migrant reception facilities, the Commissioner recalled that rather than preventing the spread of the virus, deprivation of liberty risks endangering the health of both staff and asylum seekers and migrants, as these facilities provide poor opportunities for social distancing and other protection measures. She therefore urged the Cypriot authorities to review the situation of the residents of all reception centres, starting with the most vulnerable. She also emphasised that since immigration detention of children, whether unaccompanied or with their families, is never in their best interest, they should be released immediately.[15]

 

[1]  EASO Operating Plan 2021, available at: https://bit.ly/3roXHbg

[2] Council Regulation (EC) No 866/2004 on a regime under Article 2 of Protocol No 10 of the Act of Accession as last amended by Council Regulation (EC) No 587/2008.

[3]  EU Accession Treaty – Protocols on Cyprus, available at: https://bit.ly/2vTilJ0. The Protocol on Cyprus, attached to the Treaty of Accession signed on 16 April 2003 by the Republic of Cyprus, provides for the suspension of the application of the acquis in those areas of the Republic of Cyprus, where the Government of the Republic does not exercise effective control.

[4]  Associated Press, ‘Cyprus sees surge in migrants crossing from breakaway north’, 10 December 2018, available at: https://bit.ly/2BKDiph; The Guardian, ‘“Cyprus is saturated” – burgeoning migrant crisis grips island’, 11 December 2018, available at: https://bit.ly/2Qsx2Mu.

[5]  European Commission, Fourteenth report on the implementation of Council Regulation (EC) No 866/2004 and the situation resulting from its application covering the period 1 January until 31 December 2017, COM (2018) 488, 22 June 2018, available at: https://bit.ly/2BHUvQ4.

[6] Philenews, “Μέτρα ΥΠΕΣ και ΥΠΕΞ για αυξημένους ελέγχους στα οδοφράγματα”, available in Greek at: https://bit.ly/2WfKSTP Philenews, “Υπουργικό: Τα μέτρα για την παράνομη μετανάστευση“, available in Greek at: https://bit.ly/2TPDzRc.

[7] Cyprus Mail, “Barbed-wire controversy grows”, 12 March 2021, available at: https://bit.ly/3m0U2ys.

[8]  Aljazeera, ‘Cyprus pushes Syrian refugees back at sea due to coronavirus’ 30 March 2020, available at: https://bit.ly/3rJ1mRr.

[9]  Information provided by asylum seekers in the Centre to Cyprus Refugee Council.

[10] Kathimerini, ‘UNCHR Representative in “K”: Boat pushbacks are contrary to international law’, 13 September 2020, (available in Greek) available at: https://bit.ly/3fHsgUp. See also, DW, ‘Refugee pushbacks by Cyprus draw attention from EU, UN’, available at: https://bit.ly/2O2P0F7; ECRE, ‘Cyprus: devastating conditions push people from Lebanon to hostile Cyprus’, 25 September 2020, available at: https://bit.ly/3rv1Ppy; U.S Department of State, 2020 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices: Cyprus, available at: https://bit.ly/3rF00X2.

[11]  Correspondence from the European Court of Human Rights regarding Application no.39090/20 M.A. and Others v. Cyprus and a request for interim measures, September 2020, available here: https://bit.ly/37gq16X; See also Kisa, ‘Refoulement and push-backs of refugees: Government exposed morally, politically and legally’, September 2020, available at: https://bit.ly/3nYKyDK.

[12]   UNIFIL, ‘UNNIFIL naval peacekeepers rescue 37 stranded at sea’ September 2020, available at: https://bit.ly/3bN3Kkv. See also; Daily Star Lebanon, ‘Lebanon finds four bodies after deadly sea crossing’ September 2020, available at: https://bit.ly/3lcTq75. This was also reported by survivors to Cyprus Refugee Council.

[13]  Phileleftheros ‘The boat with immigrants will not sail to Cyprus’, 3 December 2020, available in Greek at: https://bit.ly/3dfa6c2.

[14]Phileleftheros ‘The Coast Guard prevented the approach of a boat with migrants’, 8 January 2021 (available in Greek) available at: https://bit.ly/3w6dBKl.

[15] Council of Europe, Commissioner of Human Rights, Letter to the Minister of Interior of Cyprus Available at: https://bit.ly/3mmJiuE.

Table of contents

  • Statistics
  • Overview of the legal framework
  • Overview of the main changes since the previous report update
  • Asylum Procedure
  • Reception Conditions
  • Detention of Asylum Seekers
  • Content of International Protection
  • ANNEX I – Transposition of the CEAS in national legislation