Legal representation of unaccompanied children

Cyprus

Country Report: Legal representation of unaccompanied children Last updated: 12/04/21

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According to the law, when an application for asylum is lodged by an unaccompanied child, the Aliens and Immigration Unit, which is the authority responsible for receiving asylum applications, must immediately notify the Head of the Asylum Service, who must immediately notify the Director of Social Welfare Services.[1] In practice, there is no proper identification mechanism, save for the police officers at the Aliens and Immigration Unit having to verify the ages on the asylum applications in order to identify children. However, this is not done systematically, nor is there a procedure to identify children who may have entered the country on false documents that show them to be over the age of 18. Due to the lack of information both at the Unit where asylum applications are made, as well as in detention centres, unaccompanied children are not always aware that it is to their benefit to report their real age.

The law provides that the Director of Social Welfare Services acts, either in person or via an officer of the Social Welfare Services, as a representative of unaccompanied children in the procedures provided in the Refugee Law. For judicial proceedings, the Social Welfare Services ensures the representation of unaccompanied children pursuant to the Commissioner for the Protection of Children’s Rights (Commissioner Appointment by the Court as Child Representative) Procedural Rules of 2014.[2] Therefore, representation remains with the Social Welfare Services throughout the asylum procedures except for judicial proceedings where the Commissioner for Children’s Rights is responsible for appointing legal representation.

According to the law, guardianship has automatic and immediate effect, without a decision or act, whereas representation must be taken up and carried out as soon as possible. There is no procedural formality for the Social Welfare Services to take up either appointment, and they apply for all procedures.

The role of the representative entails assistance and representation during the administrative examination of the asylum application. In addition, the law provides that the Asylum Service shall ensure that the representative is given the opportunity to inform the unaccompanied child about the meaning and possible consequences of the personal interview and, where appropriate, how to prepare themselves for the personal interview. The Asylum Service, according to the Law, permits the representative to be present at the first instance interview and ask questions or make comments, within the framework set by the responsible officer/caseworker who conducts the interview. On the other hand, the guardian is responsible for the overall well-being of the child, including accommodation, school arrangements, and access to healthcare.

In practice regarding the representation carried out by the Social Welfare Services, the appointed officer does not have adequate knowledge or training on legal or asylum issues. During the interview, the representative is always present, but as they do not have sufficient knowledge or training on legal or asylum issues, they are not in a position to contribute in a substantial way. In all cases monitored by the Cyprus Refugee Council,[3] the representative has never asked any questions or made any comments after the interview. In 2020, there was an increase in the number of Social Welfare Officers assigned as guardians to unaccompanied children. Specifically, 3 guardians are assigned for the UASC in Nicosia, 3 in Larnaca, 3 in Limassol, and 1 in Paphos. As such, their involvement with the children has substantially improved as they are in a position to have frequent meetings with them and have a knowledge of each child’s history and needs. Issues arising from lack of knowledge on the asylum framework and asylum procedures remain, despite the increased number of Social Welfare Officers acting as guardians.

In instances where the asylum application is rejected, since the 2016 amendment to the Refugee Law, where an unaccompanied child needs to proceed with a judicial review of the asylum decision, the Commissioner for Children’s Rights appoints a lawyer for this purpose. The Commissioner carries out trainings with selected lawyers on the representation of children in asylum cases from time to time and has set up a list of lawyers who have received relevant training to represent, where needed, unaccompanied children in the judicial proceedings of the asylum procedure. It should be noted, however, that legal representation is not afforded to an unaccompanied child who received a negative decision after they reached the age of majority. When an unaccompanied child receives a negative decision on their asylum claim, the guardian informs the Commissioner for Children’s Rights and requests the appointment of a lawyer that would represent the child before the IPAC. The appointed lawyer, along with an officer from the Commissioner for Children’s Rights office, have a joint meeting with the child to inform them of the appointment and the procedure to be followed. The representation continues until the case is concluded before the court, regardless of whether the child has reached the age of maturity while the procedure is ongoing.

In respect of the Dublin procedure, there have been cases where the representative of the child did not inform the Asylum Service of the existence of relatives in other European countries, leading to the expiration of the three month deadline to lodge a Dublin request.

The legal and policy framework for unaccompanied children has been repeatedly criticised by the national Ombudsman, who has issued two reports on the issue, stating the gaps in both policy and practice.[4]

In 2018, the Commissioner for the Rights of the Child issued a series of three reports related to unaccompanied children, including a report on the representation of unaccompanied children.[5] In this report, the Commissioner once again raises serious concerns on many issues related to representation and considers the existing framework to be in violation of the Asylum Directives. Such issues include the lack of representation for unaccompanied children with regard to access to reception conditions; legal representation before the Court is limited to asylum cases and not reception conditions; the law provides that unaccompanied children and their representative are provided with free legal and procedural information but does not foresee who provides such information; the legal representation provided by the Social Welfare Service is problematic; and the dual role of the Social Welfare Service that acts as a guardian and representative is also considered problematic.

There were no developments in 2020 on the legal representation of UASC except for the increase in the number of guardians. In 2019, 535 UASC applied for asylum, of which 203 were referred to age assessment and 194 were found adults. In 2020, 308 UASC applied for asylum; 66 were referred to the Asylum Service for age assessment, out of which 55 were referred for further medical age assessment tests. Of the 50 that completed the assessment, 43 were found to be adults. The number of UASC in the country was 412 until November 2020.

 

 

[1]  Article 10 Refugee Law.

[2] Procedural Rules 3/2014, available at: http://bit.ly/2mKdxvp.

[3] Information provided by the Cyprus Refugee Council.

[4] Ombudsman, Intervention regarding the treatment of unaccompanied children, 29 May 2014; Report regarding the system of protection and representation of Unaccompanied Minors, 24 August 2015, 41/2015, available in Greek at: http://bit.ly/1iZeaPB.

[5]Commissioner for the Rights of the Child, Έκθεση της Επιτρόπου, αναφορικά με την εκπροσώπηση των ασυνόδευτων ανηλίκων αιτητών ασύλου, December 2018, available in Greek at: https://bit.ly/2F8OlL8.

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