Adequate support during the interview
The Refugee Law lays down procedural guarantees and provides that if the Asylum Service finds that an applicant is in need of special procedural guarantees, they are provided with adequate support, including sufficient time, so that the applicant can benefit from the rights and comply with the obligations provided in the Refugee Law throughout the asylum procedures and to make it possible to highlight the elements needed to substantiate the asylum application. The exact level, type or kind of support is not specified in the law.
No other procedural guarantees are provided in the law or administrative guidelines or practice to accommodate the specific needs of such asylum seekers.
Cases that are identified as vulnerable will be allocated to an examiner who has training for vulnerable cases and in most cases the applicant will receive an appropriate interview. However, even in such cases there is not a set procedure wherein the examiner can request that the applicant receives support such as medical or psychological support in order to facilitate the interview and ensure the applicant is in a position to provide the elements needed to substantiate the claim.
In view of the lack of an effective mechanism for the identification and assessment of vulnerable persons, issues arise when cases are not identified as vulnerable and are examined by examiners that do not have the necessary training or in complicated cases were the examiner does not have the required expertise. Furthermore, there are complaints of examiners not taking into consideration the vulnerabilities or sensitivities of the applicant; not being impartial and having a problematic attitude. There is no recourse to address such issues since no complaint’s mechanism exists.
Regarding the procedure followed during the examination of the asylum application, in recent years there have been improvements noted in the personal interview as well as training of officers / caseworkers carrying out the interview and examining asylum claims. There are no specialised units within the Asylum Service for these groups. However, there are five specialised case officers dealing with claims from vulnerable persons, including three officers for unaccompanied children and two for vulnerable groups such as victims of trafficking and gender-based violence. However, specific interview techniques are not systematically used and practice still depends on individual officers / caseworkers conducting interviews. In addition, due to the lack of an adequate identification mechanism, in many cases the interview will be carried out by an officer / caseworker who lacks the necessary training. As there is no internal procedure to refer cases, they will often continue with the interview and examination of the application. There are also complaints about interviews being carried out in an interrogatory manner.
If requested, usually in writing, a social advisor or psychologist can escort a vulnerable person to the interview. However, due to the low capacity of available services this is not utilised very often. Based on cases represented by the Cyprus Refugee Council, such a request was made for two cases in 2019 and two cases in 2020 and permission was granted. The role of the social advisor or psychologist during the interview is supportive towards the applicant and does not intervene in the interview.
In 2018, EASO also deployed three vulnerability experts. In 2019 the number remains the same but is expected to increase in 2020. EASO support since 2017 has led to more cases being examined in a timely and appropriate manner, yet it is still not clear if all such cases are being identified and receiving appropriate examination. Based on cases represented by the Cyprus Refugee Council in 2018, there have been issues relating to the duration of the interview with cases identified of vulnerable persons that last five hours and, in a case of a victim of torture with ongoing physical pain, eight hours.
Exemption from special procedures
The law also provides that where such adequate support cannot be provided within the framework of the Accelerated Procedure, in particular where it is considered that the applicant is in need of special procedural guarantees as a result of torture, rape or other serious forms of psychological, physical or sexual violence, the Head of the Asylum Service shall not apply, or shall cease to apply the accelerated procedure.
Asylum applications submitted by vulnerable groups of asylum seekers such as victims of torture, severe forms of violence and unaccompanied children follow the regular examination procedure. However, in accordance with Article 12Δ(4)(a) of the Refugee Law, officers are given discretionary power to exercise the accelerated examination procedure when an applicant is deemed to have special needs, although in practice this is never used. As the accelerated procedure was only initiated toward the end of 2019 there are no indications as to whether the above is applied.
 Article 10A Refugee Law.
 Information provided by the Asylum Service, January 2018.
 Information provided by EASO, 13 February 2019.