The Refugee Law defines the categories of persons considered as vulnerable. These are similar to Article 21 of the recast Reception Conditions Directive:
“[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.”
Screening of vulnerability
The Refugee Law sets out 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. 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 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 (SWS) are required to identify any special reception needs and report them to the 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 identifying and addressing in a timely manner 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.
According to the Asylum Service, they have provided a relevant form and trained the authorities where 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. Training is also provided by UNHCR from time to time and EASO as part of the Special Support Plan. The training by the latter actor has been planned under the Operating Plan 2019 with a focus on victims of trafficking. Regardless of the trainings, 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.
In 2019, the Asylum Service carried out screenings of vulnerabilities at the First Registration Reception Centre in Kokknotrimithia, however these were not full assessments and the results indicated that cases were going unidentified. From March 2019 until the present moment, the Cyprus Refugee Council also carried out vulnerability assessments at the Centre utilising relevant UNHCR tools and through this process identified a sufficient number of vulnerable persons that were referred to the responsible authorities. Such referrals led to cases of vulnerable persons being allocated to specialised examiners at the Asylum Service, as well as priority given to such cases. However, it is not clear if any other procedural guarantees are being applied. Furthermore, it has not led to an assessment and provision of any special receptions needs.
From mid-2019 and onwards, efforts have been made by the Asylum Service and EASO in collaboration with UNHCR and the Cyprus Refugee Council to set up a comprehensive vulnerability assessment procedure at the First Registration Reception Centre, including the development of a common tool to be used for screening and assessment of vulnerable persons and a Standard Operation Procedure Due to the rise in the numbers of new arrivals and then the developments due to Covid-19 this has been put on hold.
Overall, 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 identifying vulnerable persons was raised in the recent review on Cyprus by the UN Committee against Torture, specifically the lack of procedures to identify, assess and address the specific needs of asylum seekers, including survivors of torture.
Age assessment of unaccompanied children
The Refugee Law provides that the Asylum Service may use medical examinations to determine the age of an unaccompanied child, within the examination of the asylum application when, following general statements or other relevant evidence, there are doubts about the age of the applicant. If, after conducting the medical examination, there are still doubts about the age of the applicant, then the applicant is considered to be minor. Furthermore the law provides that any medical examination shall be performed in full respect of the unaccompanied child’s dignity, carried out by selecting the less invasive exams and carried out by trained professionals in the health sector so as to achieve the most reliable results possible.
The Asylum Service also has the obligation to ensure unaccompanied children are informed prior to the examination of the application in a language which they understand or are reasonably supposed to understand, about the possibility of age determination by medical examinations. Such information shall include information on the method of examination, the potential impact of the results of the medical examinations on the examination of the application and the impact any refusal of an unaccompanied child to undergo medical examinations. Furthermore, the Asylum Service must ensure that the unaccompanied child and / or representative have consented to carry out an examination to determine the age of the child, and the decision rejecting an application of an unaccompanied child who refused to undergo such medical examination shall not be based solely on that refusal.
In practice, not all unaccompanied children are sent for an age assessment, while those for whom there are doubts regarding age will first have an interview, which is considered by the authorities as a psychosocial assessment, to determine if they should be sent for medical examinations. The psychosocial assessment is carried out by an Asylum Service caseworker, in the presence of a social worker / guardian and it mostly consists of taking down facts to assess whether these are consistent with the claim of being underage. The caseworker carrying out the assessment will have received training for this purpose but is not necessarily a qualified social worker or psychologist. The assessment also includes questions related to the asylum application. In Dublin cases, a child may be sent for medical examination when the country to which he or she wants to transfer requires a medical age assessment as part of the examination of the Dublin request. The medical examination comprises of a wrist X-ray, jaw-line X-ray and a dental examination. A clinical examination by an endocrinologist to determine the stage of development, upon consent of the child, is also mentioned in the procedure. However, in practice such examination does not seem to be used due to its invasive nature.
According to the authorities, the doctors that are currently carrying out some of the dental examinations have been trained by EASO. However, the training of all professionals carrying out the age assessment does not seem to be ongoing and it is not clear if any of the doctors have since changed and if there has been further training.
Furthermore, there is no procedure in place to challenge the findings of the age assessment, and the Asylum Service refuses to give access to the file and documents relevant to the age assessment. Where results confirm the individual as an adult and these are communicated to the applicant, they are usually assisted to apply for material reception conditions and then asked to leave the shelter for children as soon as possible.
The Commissioner of Children’s Rights issued an updated report on age assessment of unaccompanied children at the end of 2018, in which she states as a positive development the procedure that has been adopted since 2014 when the last report had been issued. However, the Commissioner notes important gaps that still remain such as: the lack of an overall multidisciplinary approach of the procedure and the decision, especially noting the gaps in the psychosocial aspect of these; the absence of best interest determinations when deciding to initiate the age assessment procedure; the lack of remedy to challenge the decision that determines the age; issues relating to the role of the guardian and the representative in the age assessment procedures and the conflict of interest that arises as both roles are carried out by the same authority. Attention was also paid to the lack of independency of both of these roles as they also act on behalf of the national authority they represent.
According to the Social Welfare Services in 2019, 535 unaccompanied asylum seeking children (UASC) applied for asylum out of which 203 UASC were referred for age assessment (including medical assessments) and 194 were found to be adults.
 Article 9KΓ Refugee Law.
 Articles 9KΔ(a) and 10A Refugee Law.
 EASO, Operational & Technical Assistance Plan to Cyprus 2019, December 2018, Measure CY 1.0.
 Ombudsman, Support of a woman, single mother, victim of torture and gender-based violence, 5/2016, cited in Annual Report 2017, available in Greek at: https://bit.ly/2JlTWPx, 28-30; Reporter, ‘Απάνθρωπη αντιμετώπιση κακοποιημένης μάνας από την… ευρωπαϊκή Κύπρο’, 31 January 2019, available in Greek at: https://bit.ly/2T1KdEC.
 UNCAT, Concluding Observations on the Fifth Report of Cyprus, December 2019.
 Article 10(1Z)(a) Refugee Law.
 Commissioner of Children’s Rights, Έκθεση της Επιτρόπου Προστασίας των Δικαιωμάτων του Παιδιού, Λήδας Κουρσουμπά, αναφορικά με την εκτίμηση της ηλικίας των ασυνόδευτων ανηλίκων αιτητών ασύλου, December 2018, available in Greek at: https://bit.ly/2U2P7hW, 18 and 32.
 Ibid, 29.
 Commissioner of Children’s Rights, Position Paper on the first-stage handling of cases of unaccompanied minors, The results of the investigation of complaints, consultation with NGOs and interviews with unaccompanied minors, November 2014.