Registration of the asylum application

Cyprus

Country Report: Registration of the asylum application Last updated: 08/04/22

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Making and registering an application

According to the Refugee Law,[1] an asylum application is addressed to the Asylum Service, a department of the Ministry of Interior. The Aliens and Immigration Unit (AIU) is primarily responsible for receiving and registering applications for international protection on behalf of the Asylum Service (including finger printing for EURODAC and Dublin purposes). AIU is also responsible for implementing detention and deportation orders issued by the Director of the Civil Registry and Migration Department (CRMD). The Cypriot police is also responsible for facilitating and maintaining migration related IT-systems, such as the Eurodac and DubliNet NAP.[2]

The Unit then has no later than three working days after the application is made to register it and must then refer it immediately to the Asylum Service for examination. In cases where the applicant is in prison or detention, the application is made at the place of imprisonment or detention.[3] The law also states that if the application is made to authorities who may receive such applications but are not competent to register such application, then that authority shall ensure that the application is registered no later than six working days after the application is made.[4] Furthermore, if a large number of simultaneous requests from third country nationals or stateless persons makes it very difficult in practice to meet the deadline for the registration of the application, as mentioned above, then these requests are registered no later than 10 working days after their submission.[5]

The law does not specify the time limits within which asylum seekers should make their application for asylum; it only specifies a time limit between making and lodging an application.[6] According to the Refugee Law,[7] applicants who have entered irregularly are not subjected to punishment solely due to their illegal entry or stay, as long as they present themselves to the authorities without undue delay and provide the reasons of illegal entry or stay. In practice, the majority of persons entering or staying in the country irregularly will not be arrested when they present themselves to apply for asylum unless there is an outstanding arrest warrant or if they were in the country before and there is a re-entry ban. In limited cases, persons may be arrested when they present themselves to apply due to their irregular entry or stay even if there is no arrest warrant or re-entry ban (see Access to the Territory).[8]

According to the Refugee Law,[9] if an asylum seeker did not make an application for international protection as soon as possible, and without having a good reason for the delay, the Accelerated Procedure can be applied, yet in practice this is never implemented. The fact that an asylum application was not made at the soonest possible time by an asylum seeker who entered legally or irregularly will often be taken into consideration during the substantial examination of the asylum application and as an indication of the applicant’s lack of credibility and/or intention to delay removal.

All asylum applications are received by the Aliens and Immigration Unit, which is an office within the Police. One such office exists in each of the 5 districts in Cyprus (Nicosia, Limassol, Larnaca, Paphos, Ammochostos). In 2019 with the establishment of the Pournara, the First Reception Centre in Kokkinotrimithia (see Types of Accommodation), all persons who have arrived recently in the areas under the effective control of the RoC in an irregular manner are referred to the Centre for registration and asylum applications are to be lodged there and were supposed to stay for a period of 72 days.[10] For persons who have arrived in a regular manner, a very low percentage of the total of asylum applicants as well as persons already residing in the country on other statuses, they make and lodge asylum applications at the Immigration Unit of the city they are residing in and will not be referred to Pournara.

The services provided at the First Reception Centre in Pournara include identification, registration, and lodging of asylum applications, as well as medical screening and vulnerability assessments; when possible, the full assessment of the asylum application is directly carried out at the new Asylum Examination Centre adjacent to the ‘Pournara’ First Reception Centre. A “Safe Zone” for vulnerable applicants and persons with special needs became operational in 2021, and vulnerable persons were housed in this area. However, reports were received throughout 2021 indicating that many unaccompanied children were accommodated outside of ‘Safe Zone’ in tents or prefabricated housing units, often with non-related adults. Furthermore, the ‘Safe Zone’ is not properly supervised or monitored throughout the day or night. During 2021, a number of incidents of alleged sexual harassment were reported by individuals accommodated in Safe Zone. An extension of ‘Safe Zone’ is currently under construction and expected to be completed in 2022.

When the Centre first started operating in 2019, the duration of stay was supposed to be of 72 hours, but in practice it reached from 10 days to 2 weeks.[11] In February 2020, due to the Action Plan to address flows of migrants in the country, and in March 2020, as part of measure to address COVID-19 and before completion of construction, persons were not allowed to leave the Centre. This policy continued throughout 2020 and early 2021, with persons remaining in the Centre for periods reaching 5-6 months. During this period, at times Syrian asylum seekers were allowed to leave, the justification being that they have relatives or friends that could provide accommodation. At other times, and after strong reactions from asylum seekers in the Centre, the Asylum Service started allowing 10 or 20 persons per day to leave, with priority given to vulnerable persons and women but only if they could present a valid address. In view of the obstacles in accessing reception conditions, identifying accommodation is extremely difficult unless they are in contact with persons in the community. This policy has been justified by the authorities as part of the measures to address theincrease is migrant flows as well as spread of COVID-19, however it has led to severe overcrowding without the infrastructure in place to host such numbers.[12] In many cases, the duration of stay lasted up to 5 months; considering that persons’ freedom of movement was completely restricted and they were not allowed to leave the Centre, it can be said that it became a de facto detention centre. This has led to demonstrations by the residents nearly on a daily basis, ranging from peaceful to forceful.[13]The situation has also raised concerns among UNHCR,[14] the EU Commission[15] and the Human rights Commissioner of the Council of Europe.[16]

Throughout 2021, the duration of stay in Pournara Centre fluctuated with an average of around 45 days – 60 days, with some cases reaching 3-4 months, resulting in severe overcrowding as the number of residents surpassed 2800 persons whereas official capacity is 1000 leading to severe substandard conditions. At time of publication, the number of residents had reached just over 3,000 persons. In February and December 2021, two Dutch Courts permitted asylum applicants whose first asylum country was Cyprus to be included in the Dutch asylum procedure, because they would not have adequate reception conditions and that the alternative of returning to Cyprus entailed the risk of being subjected to degrading or inhumane treatment due to bad reception conditions. Both decisions also referred to Pournara and the low standard of conditions.[17]

For persons held in the Menogia detention centre, asylum applications are received directly within the detention facilities, whereas for persons detained in holding cells in police stations and prison who have requested to lodge an asylum application, the Aliens and Immigration Unit will be notified and send one of their police officers to receive the asylum application. Access to asylum from prison has sufficiently improved in the past year, whereas in cases of people detained in holding cells significant delays are still registered.[18]

During 2020, there were instances of people who had recently arrived irregularly and according to the new policy should have been referred to Pournara, the First Reception Centre in Kokkinotrimithia. However, due to overcrowding, they were not and were left homeless and unregistered. In an attempt to address this, the authorities set up tents outside the gates of Pournara, where approximately 200 asylum seekers were hosted with extremely limited hygiene facilities. The situation did not improve throughout 2021, when extremely long delays in accessing the Centre and registering asylum applications were reported, leading to hundreds of persons waiting outside in inhuman conditions. The delays were also caused by the Aliens and Immigration Unit of the Police carrying out interviews on the routes followed and mode of entry into the country, as well as verification of identification and documents before allowing persons to enter the Centre. Persons with a passport or some form of identification document were given access faster than those who had no documents, and many had to wait for weeks to enter the Centre. In late 2021 based on recommendation from UNHCR a pre-admission section was created with chemical toilets, to accommodate people awaiting registration, which led to a significant reduction in persons awaiting registration. In early 2022, it was reported that, among people arriving at the Centre, between 40 and 50 people each day are not admitted for registration, and will return the next days until access in given.[19]

In 2020, EASO continued to provide support in registration in four district offices of the Aliens and Immigration Service of the police as well as registration in First Reception Centre in Pournara (as well as in Nicosia, Paphos, Larnaca and Limassol). A total of 10 registration assistants were deployed by EASO throughout the year, and there were 3 registration assistants still present as of 14 December 2020, under the coordination of a Team Leader for registration activities. Due to COVID-19 measures, the presence of EASO registration assistants was suspended at times throughout 2020.[20] EASO carried out a total of 5,317 registrations in 2020, mainly concerning nationals from Syria, India and Cameroon.[21] In 2021, EASO carried out a total of 7,880 registrations, mainly concerning nationals from Syria (1,969), DRC (1,337) and Nigeria (1,211).[22]

From March to May 2020 and following on from the global escalation of COVID-19, the Aliens and Immigration Unit stopped receiving asylum applications.[23] No official decision or announcement had been made and there was a lack of clarity as to whether this is a measure in response to COVID-19 or the high numbers of applicants. Persons not given access to procedures were left stranded, without food and accommodation.[24] Among those that approached NGOs for assistance on the issue were also 4 unaccompanied children who were given access after interventions by NGOs.[25] On some occasions, a national passport was requested and at other times the reason for refusal was reported to be lack of capacity at Pournara Centre. Although lockdown measures were lifted in May 2020, and overall new arrivals of asylum seekers was at an all-time low, access to asylum did not resume normally until August 2020, and after repeated interventions carried out by the Cyprus Refugee Council toward the authorities.[26] In 2021, no such incidents were reported.

Lodging an application

According to the law, the applicant must lodge the application within six working days from the date the application was “made” at the place that it was made, provided that it is possible to do so within that period.[27] If an application is not lodged within this time, then the applicant is considered to have implicitly withdrawn or abandoned his or her application.[28] Finally, within three days from lodging the application, a confirmation that an application has been made must be provided.[29]

Fingerprints, according to the law, should be taken when an application is made.[30] However, in practice fingerprints are usually taken by the Aliens and Immigration Unit when an application is lodged. Fingerprints are taken of the applicant and all dependants aged 14 and over.

When lodging the application, the applicant is provided with an A4 paper form entitled “Confirmation of Submission of an Application for International Protection”. This document includes a photograph in addition to personal details. The application will also be registered in the common asylum database which is managed by the Asylum Service.

At this stage if the applicant is in Pournara Centre they will proceed with medical examination and upon completion they will receive an “Alien’s Registration Certificate” (ARC) formerly in booklet form and, as of 2020, as a 1-page document which contains a registration number. This is also referred to as “Alien’s Book”. Full access to reception conditions are subject to the issuance of an ARC number examined (see Criteria and Restrictions to Access Reception Conditions). If the applicant applied at the Aliens and Immigration Unit, they will proceed with medical examinations at a state hospital and upon receiving results or at a given appointment they are expected to return to the Aliens and Immigration Unit and submit medical results. The Unit will register the applicant in the aliens’ register and upon submitting medical results they will receive an “Alien’s Registration Certificate” (ARC).

For applicants registering their applications at the First Reception Centre Pournara, all procedures will be concluded in the Centre, including identification, registration, and lodging of asylum applications as well as medical screenings, vulnerability assessments, and the issuance of the ARC number. Towards the end of 2020, and in early 2021, there were delays in the issuance of the ARC number due to COVID-19 cases in Pournara which led to the responsible officers not being present in the Centre. For the rest of 2021, there were no reports of similar delays.

[1] Article 11(1) Refugee Law.

[2] EASO, Operating Plan, Cyprus 2022-2024, available at: https://bit.ly/37ezU8Z.

[3] Article 11(2)(a) Refugee Law.

[4] Article 11(2)(b) Refugee Law.

[5] Article 11(2)(c) Refugee Law.

[6] Article 11(4)(a) Refugee Law.

[7] Article 7 Refugee Law.

[8] Information provided by the Cyprus Refugee Council based on monitoring visits to the detention centre.

[9] Article 12Δ(4)(i) Refugee Law.

[10] Information provided by the Asylum Service.

[11] Information provided by the Asylum Service.

[12] UNHCR. Fair system needed for migrants says UNHCR, concerns over minors, available at: https://bit.ly/3tAG0bc.

[13] Politis, ‘New protest in Pournara – 1600 refugees stacked in a centre of 700 people’, 1 February 2021 (available in Greek) available at: https://bit.ly/2P8pT4x. See also, DW ‘Cyprus: Refugee protests over incarceration conditions’, available at: https://bit.ly/3fmboEP.

[14] Kathimerini ‘UNHCR: Need to decongest Pournara’ 13 January 2021 (available in Greek) available at: https://bit.ly/3u28Uzt.

[15] Kathimerini ‘Brussels concerned about Pournara’ 16 February 2021 (available in Greek) available at: https://bit.ly/39psaiy.

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

[17] Court of The Hague, case NL21.2036, available at: https://bit.ly/3IU5xCG; Court of Rb Amsterdam, NL21.17448 en NL.1745, available at: https://bit.ly/3KtS3Op.

[18] Information provided to the Cyprus Refugee Council.

[19] Information provided by the Cyprus Refugee Council.

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

[21] Information provided by EASO, 26 February 2021.

[22] Information provided by EUAA, 28 February 2022.

[23] Cyprus Mail, ‘Coronavirus: ‘Refugees and asylum seekers need accurate information’, many in dire straits’ April 2020, available at: https://bit.ly/3lgwDZz.

[24] EASO Asylum Report 2021, available at: https://bit.ly/3MxkUmL, 81.

[25] Information provided by Caritas Cyprus and Cyprus Refugee Council.

[26] Based on interventions carried out by the Cyprus Refugee Council.

[27] Article 11(4)(a) Refugee Law.

[28] Article 11(4)(c) Refugee Law.

[29] Article 8(1)(b) Refugee Law.

[30] Article 11A Refugee Law.

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