Registration of the asylum application

Cyprus

Country Report: Registration of the asylum application Last updated: 28/04/21

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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, and made at the Aliens and Immigration Unit (Department of the Police) of the city in which the applicant is residing. 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.[2] 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.[3] 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.[4]

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.[5] According to the Refugee Law,[6] 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).[7]

According to the Refugee Law,[8] 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).

With the establishment of the Pournara, the First Reception Centre in Kokkinotrimithia (see Types of Accommodation),  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  be lodged there and are expected to stay for a period of 72 days.[9] For persons who have arrived in a regular manner, which is 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.

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 First Reception Centre. This policy continued throughout 2020 and 2021 with persons remaining in the Centre for periods reaching 5-6 months. 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 the increase 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. In many cases the duration of stay reaches 5 months and considering that persons have complete restriction of movement outside of the Centre, the Centre has become de facto detention. This has led to demonstrations by the residents nearly on a daily basis, ranging from peaceful to forceful.[10] The situation has also raised concerns among UNHCR,[11] the EU Commission[12] and the Human rights Commissioner of the Council of Europe.[13]

At the time of publication, the number of persons allowed to leave the Centre increased to around 50 persons a day. Furthermore, persons in the Centre who have completed registration are allowed two exits per day from the Centre, in accordance with the measures to address Covid-19 applicable for the general public and exit cards have been issued for this purpose. Nevertheless, there is still severe overcrowding with over 1,500 residents despite the 1,000 official capacity.

According to the 2021 Operating Plan agreed between Cyprus and EASO,[14] as of 2021 all migrants who entered the Country irregularly will be referred to the First Reception Centre in Pournara, including for the registration of the asylum application. Overall, the services provided in the Centre include identification, registration, and lodging of asylum applications, as well as medical screening and vulnerability assessments, and when relevant, the full assessment of the asylum application at the new Asylum Examination Centre adjacent to ‘Pournara’ First Reception Centre. A “Safe Zone” for vulnerable applicants (specific area should be assigned to persons with special needs and vulnerable applicants) will also become operational in 2021.

For persons in detention, their asylum applications are received directly within the detention facilities, whereas for persons in prison who have requested to lodge an asylum application, the Aliens and Immigration Unit will be notified and will send one of their police officers to receive the asylum application. This previously led to delays, however, there has been sufficient improvement in the past year.[15]

There is no distinction between making and lodging an application in practice, with few exceptions. In most cases 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, at times given an appointment. Persons requested to return on another day, to lodge the application, are not necessarily provided with evidence that they have stated an intention to apply for asylum nor are they registered by the Unit in any way. The waiting period for an appointment varies depending on the influx of asylum seekers and the city and can range from a few days to a few weeks. During this time, asylum seekers do not have access to reception conditions or proof of their status in the country. However, there are rarely reports of this leading to arrest. 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. In early 2021, the number remained at 200 people.

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 Registration 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.[16] EASO carried out a total of 5,317 registrations in 2020, mainly concerning nationals from Syria, India and Cameroon.[17]

From March to May 2020 and following on from the global escalation of Covid-19, the Aliens and Immigration Unit stopped receiving asylum applications.[18] 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. Among those that approached NGOs for assistance on the issue were also 4 unaccompanied children who were given access after interventions by NGOs.[19]  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 and after repeated interventions toward the authorities.[20]

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.[21] If an application is not lodged within this time, then the applicant is considered to have implicitly withdrawn or abandoned his or her application.[22] Finally, within three days from lodging the application, a confirmation that an application has been made must be provided.[23]

Fingerprints, according to the law, should be taken when an application is made.[24] 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 dependents 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 Aliens and Immigration Unit of the Police will also immediately register the application in the common asylum database which is managed by the Asylum Service.

At this stage the applicant is expected to proceed with medical examinations at a state hospital. 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) 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 provided subject to the issuance of an ARC number.

For applicants registering their applications at, First Reception Centre Pournara, all of the above 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.

The issuance of the ARC is at times delayed, sometimes reaching two-three months, and preventing timely access to reception conditions. If an asylum seeker applies for welfare benefits only with the “Confirmation of Submission of an Application for International Protection” he/she is usually granted a part of the foreseen amounts through vouchers, until the ARC number is issued examined (see Criteria and Restrictions to Access Reception Conditions). In few cases, usually following interventions of NGOs concerning particularly vulnerable persons, an emergency amount in cash might also be provided. In 2020 and currently, asylum seekers are able to issue a hospital card and access basic health care services, without an ARC number. In regard to registration at the Labour Department, an ARC number was required before the outbreak of the pandemic. However, due to Covid-19 measures, the Labour Department has suspended all new registrations of asylum seekers, regardless of whether a person holds an ARC number.

 

 

[1]   Article 11(1) Refugee Law.

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

[3]  Article 11(2)(b) Refugee Law.

[4]  Article 11(2)(c) Refugee Law.

[5]  Article 11(4)(a) Refugee Law.

[6]  Article 7 Refugee Law.

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

[8]  Article 12Δ(4)(i) Refugee Law.

[9]   Information provided by the Asylum Service.

[10] 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.

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

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

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

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

[15]  Information provided to the Cyprus Refugee Council on persons who applied for asylum while in prison.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[24]  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