General (scope, time limits)
According to the law, the Asylum Service shall ensure that the examination procedure is concluded as soon as possible, without prejudice to an adequate and complete examination. Furthermore, the Asylum Service shall ensure that the examination procedure is concluded within 6 months of the lodging of the application. In instances where the Asylum Service is not able to issue a decision within six months, it is obliged to inform the applicant of the delay and, upon request, of the applicant, provide information on the reasons for the delay and on the time-frame in which a decision on the application is expected.
The six month time-frame can be extended for a period not exceeding a further nine months, where: (a) complex issues of fact and/or law are involved; (b) a large number of third-country nationals or stateless persons simultaneously apply for international protection, making it very difficult in practice to conclude the procedure within the six-month time limit; (c) where the delay can clearly be attributed to the failure of the applicant to comply with his or her obligations as provided for under the law. By way of exception, the Asylum Service may, in duly justified circumstances, exceed the time limits laid down by a maximum of three months where necessary in order to ensure an adequate and complete examination of the application.
The Head of the Asylum Service may postpone concluding the examination procedure where the Asylum Service cannot reasonably be expected to decide within the time limits laid down, due to an uncertain situation in the country of origin which is expected to be temporary. In such a case, the Asylum Service shall conduct reviews of the situation in that country of origin at least every six months; inform the applicants concerned within a reasonable time of the reasons for the postponement; and inform the European Commission within a reasonable time of the postponement of procedures for that country of origin.
Finally, the law states that in any event, the Asylum Service shall conclude the examination procedure within a maximum time limit of 21 months from the lodging of the application.
In practice, the time required for the majority of decisions on asylum applications exceeds the six-month period, and in cases of well-founded applications, the average time taken for the issuance of a decision takes approximately two-three years. It is not uncommon for well-founded cases to take up to three-four years before asylum seekers receive an answer.
Delays in issuing decisions do not lead to any consequences and the Asylum Service does not inform the asylum seeker of the delay as provided for in the law, unless the applicant specifically requests information on the delay. Even when such a request is submitted to the Asylum Service, the written response briefly mentions that the decision will be issued within a reasonable time, yet no specific time frame or reasons for the delay are provided to the applicant.
The Asylum Service issued 2,669 decisions in 2018 and 4,372 decisions in 2019, based on a recommendation issued either by Asylum Service caseworkers or EASO caseworkers. EASO drafted 724 recommendations on asylum applications in 2018.In 2020, EASO drafted 500 recommendations. The main nationalities concerned by EASO opinions in 2020 were Georgie, Syria and Cameroon.
EASO has recently provided technical support to the Asylum Service in an effort to address the backlog and to speed up the examination of asylum applications. In 2020, the Ministry of Interior also introduced new measures to address migrant flows, including measures specifically targeted at reducing the backlog and examination times of asylum applications. However, during 2020 due to Covid-19, there were periods where the interview for the examination of asylum applications was suspended, which led to further delays and an increase in the backlog. In addition, with the closure of the Refugee Reviewing Authority an additional 432 cases/665 persons were transferred back to the Asylum Service and onto the backlog. As reported in the EASO 2021 operating plan for Cyprus, even though there were sufficiently lesser new asylum applications in 2021, the number of pending cases rose as well as the age of the backlog.
Attempts were made to examine newly arrived asylum seekers residing in Pournara during their stay in the Centre by utilising the recently established Asylum Examination Centre adjacent to ‘Pournara’ First Reception Centre. The Examination Centre examines asylum applications of asylum seekers residing in Pournara, as well as asylum seekers in the community. Priority was given especially to newly arrived Syrian nationals who were registered in Pournara, and Syrians living in the community, which had a positive impact on the backlog of pending asylum applications of Syrian nationals.
Overall, the backlog of pending cases has consistently increased since 2017, doubling from 2018 to 2019 and reaching 19,660 cases at the end of 2020.
|Backlog of pending cases: 2017-2020|
Prioritised examination and fast-track processing
The Refugee Law includes a specific provision for the prioritised examination of applications, within the regular procedure, applicable where:
- the application is likely to be well-founded;
- the applicant is vulnerable, or in need of special procedural guarantees, in particular unaccompanied minors.
Although efforts are made to ensure such prioritisation is given especially to vulnerable cases such as to victims of torture, violence or trafficking, it does not necessarily imply that other important safeguards are followed, such as the evaluation of their vulnerability and psychological condition and how this may affect their capability to respond to the questions of the interview (see section on Special Procedural Guarantees). In addition, these cases may start out prioritised but there are often delays due to the heavy work-load of examiners handling vulnerable cases, lack of interpreters or requirements for other examinations to be concluded before a decision can be made, such as examinations of victims of torture by the Medical Board or victims of trafficking by the Anti-Trafficking Department of the Police.
In 2017, within the EASO Special Support Plan, applications were screened to identify vulnerable cases so that they could be prioritised as well as allocated to an EASO expert specialised in vulnerable groups. By the end of 2018, it was not clear how effective this measure was, as there are no statistics on the number of cases that were considered vulnerable and were prioritised and examined by an EASO expert. Moreover, EASO experts on vulnerability, provided by other Member States, were not consistently present in the country as they were deployed for periods of six weeks. In 2019, efforts were made by EASO and the Asylum Service to increase the number of examiners trained to examine vulnerable cases. However, the sharp increase in asylum applications, including vulnerable cases, has affected the impact of such measures. In 2020, due to the pandemic there were periods where the examination of asylum applications was suspended, which led to further delays in the examination of these cases, however efforts continue by the Asylum Service, with support from EASO, to increase the number of caseworkers examining vulnerable cases. In 2020, EASO deployed a total of 3 vulnerability experts and 1 vulnerability assistant in Cyprus. The latter was still present as of 14 December 2020, as well as one vulnerability expert. According to information provided by EASO, vulnerability experts support and consult EASO caseworkers during the first-instance asylum examination procedures and refer vulnerable applicants who have not been assessed as vulnerable during the registration phase to the competent authorities for further appropriate actions. In this context, 194 applicants were assessed as vulnerable during the period of May-December 2020.
Further to the instances of prioritisation mentioned in the Refugee Law, the Asylum Service continues to prioritise certain caseloads and examines them within the regular procedure and not the accelerated procedure, under two circumstances:
- When the country of origin is deemed generally safe;
- If a conflict is taking place in the country of origin, such as Iraqi cases in the past and Syrian cases currently.
In 2018 and 2019, the time required for the examination of cases of Syrians and Palestinians increased in comparison to previous years, from an average of 12 months to 18 – 24 months. In 2020, attempts were made to speed up the examination of cases of Syrians by utilising the newly established Asylum Examination Centre, adjacent to ‘Pournara’ First Reception Centre, for newly arrived Syrians who were registered in Pournara as well as carrying out interviews in Pournara for Syrians already living in the community.
According to the law, all applicants, including each dependent adult, are granted the opportunity of a personal interview. The personal interview on the substance of the application may be omitted in cases where:
- The Head of the Asylum Service is able to take a positive decision with regard to refugee status on the basis of already available evidence; or
- the Asylum Service is of the opinion that the applicant is unfit or unable to be interviewed owing to enduring circumstances beyond his or her control. When in doubt, the Asylum Service shall consult a medical professional to establish whether the condition that makes the applicant unfit or unable to be interviewed is of a temporary or enduring nature.
In practice, all asylum seekers are interviewed, and in the majority of cases, the interview takes place 18-24 months after the application has been lodged, including cases that are being prioritised under fast-track processing. In 2020, attempts were made to interview newly arrived asylum seekers residing in Pournara during their stay in the Centre by utilising the recently established Asylum Examination Centre adjacent to ‘Pournara’ First Reception Centre. In such cases the interview took place soon after the lodging of the asylum application and often close to the vulnerability assessment, with no access, or extremely limited access, to legal advice.
In 2017, the Asylum Service noted that they had omitted the interview in cases where the applicant was unfit or unable to be interviewed owing to enduring circumstances beyond his or her control. No information is available for 2018. In 2019, the interview was omitted in one case of a deaf applicant from Syria, due to extreme difficulties in communication – illiteracy and no knowledge of sign language. No such cases were reported in 2020.
Where simultaneous applications by a large number of third-country nationals or stateless persons make it impossible in practice for the determining authority to conduct timely interviews on the substance of each application by the Asylum Service, the Refugee Law permits the Ministerial Council to issue an order, published in the Gazette, providing that experts of another Member State who have been appointed by EASO or other related organisations to be temporarily involved in conducting such interviews. In such cases, the personnel other than the Asylum Service, shall, in advance, receive the relevant training and shall also have acquired general knowledge of problems which could adversely affect an applicant’s ability to be interviewed, such as indications that the applicant may have been tortured in the past.
This provision was triggered in 2017 through Ministerial Decree 187/2017, enabling EASO experts to conduct in-merit interviews between May 2017 and January 2018 due to the number of simultaneous asylum applications made in Cyprus and the inability of the Asylum Service to conduct those in time. EASO presence continued throughout 2018, 2019 and 2020. The presence of the EASO examiners initially sped up the examination of applications but has not impacted the backlog.
In 2020, the International Protection Administrative Court identified a period where there was no Ministerial Decree in force authorising EASO to conduct interviews in the asylum procedures. As a result, the Court determined that all such decisions must be cancelled and re-examined. This has led to the Asylum Service cancelling the negative decisions and informing asylum seekers that their applications will be re-examined and their status as asylum seekers has been reinstated. Regarding positive decisions, these will not be cancelled.
All interviews are carried out at the offices of the Asylum Service by local staff or EASO experts. EASO caseworkers conducted 730 interviews in 2018, mainly concerning asylum seekers from Syria, Egypt and Iraq. In 2020, EASO carried out a total of 917 interviews, mainly of applicants from Cameroon, Egypt and Georgia.
Quality of interview
According to the law, the Asylum Service shall take appropriate measures to ensure that personal interviews are conducted under conditions that allow the applicant to explain, in detail, the reasons for submitting the application for asylum. In order to do so the Asylum Service shall:
- Ensure the competent officer who conducts the interview is sufficiently competent to take account of the personal or general circumstances surrounding the application, including the applicant’s cultural origin, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, or vulnerability;
- Wherever possible, provide for the interview with the applicant to be conducted by a person of the same sex if the applicant so requests, unless the Asylum Service has reason to believe that such a request is based on grounds which are not related to difficulties on the part of the applicant to present the grounds of his or her application in a comprehensive manner;
- Select an interpreter who is able to ensure appropriate communication between the applicant and the competent officer who conducts the interview. The communication shall take place in the language preferred by the applicant unless there is another language which he or she understands and in which he or she is able to communicate clearly. Wherever possible, an interpreter of the same sex is provided if the applicant so requests, unless the Asylum Service has reasons to believe that such a request is based on grounds which are not related to difficulties on the part of the applicant to present the grounds of his or her application in a comprehensive manner;
- Ensure that the person who conducts the interview on the substance of an application for international protection does not wear a military or law enforcement uniform;
- Ensure that interviews with minors are conducted in a child-appropriate manner.
Furthermore, when conducting a personal interview, the Asylum Service shall ensure that the applicant is given an adequate opportunity to present elements needed to substantiate the application in accordance with the law as completely as possible. This shall include the opportunity to give an explanation regarding elements which may be missing and/or any inconsistencies or contradictions in the applicant’s statements.
In practice the quality of the interview, including the structure and the collection of data, differs substantially depending on the individual examiner. The absence of Standard Operating Procedures and mechanisms for internal quality control to date contribute to the diverse approaches.
In 2020 due to measures taken to address Covid-19, interviews were at times conducted via video conferencing with the interviewer and interpreter being in another location than the asylum seeker. There were cases were the asylum seeker complained that other staff were going in and out of the room while the interview was taking place, which was distracting and affected the sense of confidentiality. Interviews via video conference continue in 2021.
As regards the EASO experts, cases are allocated according to expertise and a standardised interview structure is followed. Based on cases represented by the Cyprus Refugee Council in 2018, there had been issues such as lack of expertise for complex cases, however there has been improvement noted in 2019 and 2020.
Regarding the gender of the examiner and the interpreter, the Law provides that they can be of the same gender as the applicant, if they make such a request. In practice, if a request for specific gender of examiner or interpreter is made (same gender or opposite gender) it is usually granted, however, due to the absence of information and legal advice or representation most applicants do not have knowledge of this right in order to make such a request.
Asylum Service caseworkers often conduct interviews in English, using interpretation where needed. This is due to the fact that it is easier to identify interpreters that can speak the applicant’s language and English rather than Greek. This, however, often affects the quality of interviews where the caseworker would arguably be more comfortable using Greek instead of English. The language barrier is often visible in the interview transcript and the recommendation, which often have several grammar, spelling and syntax mistakes. As such, statements may be misunderstood or passages are poorly drafted or unclear.
In cases examined by EASO, caseworkers conduct interviews in English, using interpretation where needed. This is also the case for Greek-speaking interim experts who could also be more comfortable using Greek instead of English. The language barrier is at times visible in some of the recommendations, where some passages are poorly drafted or unclear and have several grammar, spelling and syntax mistakes.
Although interpreters are always present in interviews, they are not professionals, often inadequately trained, and do not have a specific code of conduct. Asylum seekers often complain about the quality of the interpretation as well as the impartiality/attitude of the interpreter, yet such complaints are seldom addressed by the Asylum Service. During monitoring of interviews at the Asylum Service, it has been noted that although asylum seekers are asked by the interviewing officer whether they can understand the interpreter, most of the time they are reluctant to admit that there is an issue with comprehension and prefer to proceed with the interview as they feel they have no other choice or are unwilling to wait for a longer period of time (sometimes months) for another interview to be scheduled. In addition, there have been cases where the applicant has complained about the interpreter regarding the quality of interpretation or attitude, and this has been perceived as a lack of cooperation on behalf of the applicant.
In the case of interviews carried out by EASO caseworkers, the interpreters are often provided under the EASO Support Plan and may have been brought to Cyprus for this purpose. These interpreters seem to have received training and follow Standard Operating Procedures. However, in 2019 complaints were received regarding an EASO interpreter that led to a complaint and the subsequent termination of services by the interpreter. There were no interpreters deployed by EASO in 2020.
Recording and transcript
The Refugee Law permits audio/video recordings. However, in practice only a verbatim transcript of the interview is drafted.
The law also provides that the examiner must provide the applicant an opportunity to make comments and/or provide clarifications orally and/or in writing with regard to any mistranslations or misconceptions appearing in the written report or in the text of the transcript at the end of the personal interview or within a specified time limit before a decision is taken by the Head of the Asylum Service on the asylum application. Furthermore, the legal representative/lawyer can intervene once the interview is concluded, and this is the only stage at which corrections are permitted. However, in practice, the situation varies between the examining officers, as some officers will allow such corrections and will only take into consideration the corrected statement, whereas others will allow for corrections but then consider the initial statement and the corrected statement to be contradictory and have often used this as evidence of lack of credibility on behalf of the applicant. In some cases, the officer has not accepted any corrections at all.
There are often complaints by asylum seekers that the transcript does not reflect their statements, which is attributed either to the problematic interpretation or to other problems with the examining officer, such as not being appropriately trained. This is particularly the case for the examination of vulnerable persons or sensitive issues, especially for vulnerable cases that were not identified or examined by an examining officer trained to deal with vulnerable cases. Other complaints include examining officers not being impartial, having a problematic attitude, and not allowing corrections or clarifications on the asylum seeker’s statements.
According to the law, before the decision is issued on the asylum application, the applicant and/or the legal advisor/lawyer has access either to the report of the personal interview, the text of the audio, and/or visual recording of the personal interview. When the audio and/or visual recording of the personal interview is carried out, access is provided only if the applicant proceeds with a judicial review of the asylum application before the IPAC, with the exception of applications examined under the accelerated procedure.
As audio/video recording is not used in practice, access should be provided to the report of the personal interview, prior to the issuance of the decision. According to the Asylum Service, such access is provided and applicants are informed of this right during the personal interview. However, very few applicants seem to be aware of this right and there is no evidence of anyone accessing this right, to the knowledge of the Cyprus Refugee Council. Access entails reviewing the report, which is in Greek or sometimes in English, without translation/interpretation and without having a right to receive a copy of it, which may also contribute to applicants not being able to access this right.
In the case of a legal advisor/lawyer accessing it prior to the issuance of the decision, very few applicants have a legal advisor/lawyer at the time of the first instance examination, and even if they do, few lawyers are familiar with the asylum procedure. However, in the rare cases where access is requested, it has been granted, as seen from cases represented by the Cyprus Refugee Council.
Furthermore, access to the file, including the report of the personal interview, is not provided to the applicant after the decision has been issued but only to the legal advisor/lawyer. Again, a copy is not provided but only the right to review the file and its contents.
Regarding asylum applications examined whilst in detention, the overall quality of the asylum examination is not particularly affected by the fact that the applicant is in detention, as the examination, including the personal interview, is carried out by an officer/caseworker from the Asylum Service with the assistance of an interpreter. However, it is evident that the psychological state of individuals who are in detention is rarely taken into consideration during the interviewing process, including possible victims of torture, trafficking or violence. Interviews may be carried out at the offices of the Asylum Service, as with all asylum seekers or, if detained, in a private room in Menogia Detention Centre by a caseworker of the Asylum Service. If detained in Menogia, the interview usually takes place within 1-2 months. However, if detained in holding cells in a police station, the interview is often delayed with cases in 2020 found to have reached 6 months with no interview.
It should be noted that on account of the global escalation of Covid-19, interviews for the examination of asylum applications were suspended between March and May 2020 and at various other times throughout the year depending on outbreak of Covid-19 cases.
In order to ensure that asylum seekers in Cyprus have a right to an effective remedy against a negative decision before a judicial body on both facts and law in accordance with Article 46 of the recast Asylum Procedures Directive, the relevant authorities modified the procedure as follows: abolish the RRA, a second level first-instance decision-making authority that examined recourses (appeals) on both facts and law, but was not a judicial body, and instead provide for a judicial review on both facts and law before the Administrative Court. As the Administrative Court has jurisdiction to review all administrative decisions, the asylum decisions contributed sufficiently to a heavy caseload. Therefore in 2018, it was decided that a specialised court would be established to take on the cases related to international protection. A new court was established, named the International Protection Administrative Court (IPAC), and in June 2019, IPAC initiated operations. Furthermore, in July 2019 the RRA stopped receiving new applications and in December 2020 ceased operations.
The IPAC, only examines both facts and law for asylum applications made on 20 July 2015 onwards. For applications made prior to the given date, the IPAC will only examine on points of law, as did the Supreme Court. As a result, applicants who applied prior to 20 July 2015 will never have access to an effective remedy before a court or tribunal, as required by the recast Asylum Procedures Directive.
The IPAC initiated operations in June 2019 and as a result took on the backlog from the Administrative Court, as provided in the law which at the time of transfer of jurisdiction was estimated to be approximately 800 cases, but this was not officially confirmed. Due to the short time it has been operating as well as the lack of statistics, the timeframe in which cases are examined is not yet clear, however there are indications that the IPAC is examining cases faster than Administrative Court. The Court received support under the EASO Support Plan 2020 in the form of two Member State experts, five seconded research officers, and one interim statistician as well as the possibility of additional training where needed. According to EASO, the support provided by the research officers has been rather fundamental, however the progress achieved has been limited given that the backlog has been on the increase, which might further increase because of recent law amendments and the unprocessed workload of the Refugee Reviewing Authority. EASO support will continue and be increased in 2021 and will assist with expanding the structure and assuring tailored technical assistance (case management system, targeted trainings and country briefings among others) with the twin aim to consolidate the structure and process in the IPAC and to reduce the backlog.
The main challenges identified in relation to the IPAC have been the lack of comprehensive rules of procedures, infrastructure challenges, a lack of administrative and logistical support and the expected size of the backlog (consisting of new cases, the backlog from the Administrative Court and appeals against decisions by the Reviewing Authority).
Rules and time limits
In 2020, the RoC amended the Cyprus Constitution and key legislation in order to reduce time limits to submit an appeal against a decision before the International Protection Administrative Court (IPAC). In view of the amendment which came into force on 12 October 2020 appeal times are reduced from 75 days to 30 days for decisions issued in the regular procedure and 15 days for the following decisions:
- A rejected application which has been examined in accordance with the accelerated procedure under section 12D of the Refugee Law,
- A decision by which an application for refugee status and/or subsidiary protection status is certified as “unfounded”,
- A decision to determine an asylum application as “inadmissible” in accordance with section 12B(fourth) [12Βτετράκις],
- A decision which refers to section 9 of the Refugee Law relating to the grant, withdrawal or reduction of benefits foreseen in any of the provisions of the said Law,
- A decision with is made under the provisions of section 9E (residence and movement) and 9JA(4)(b) [9ΙΑ(4)(β)] (place of residence) of the Refugee Law,
- A decision made under section 16B (implicit withdrawal), 16C (explicit withdrawal), or section 16D(3)(d) (a subsequent application deemed “inadmissible”) of the Refugee Law,
Information on when and where to appeal is included in the first instance decision issued by the Asylum Service. Decisions issued by the RRA can also be appealed before the IPAC, which is again communicated in the negative decision issued by the RRA.
The IPAC examines both facts and points of law. The appeal submitted for decisions issued in the regular procedure has suspensive effect; whereas an appeal for decisions issued in the accelerated procedure, subsequent applications, decisions that determine the asylum application unfounded or inadmissible, decisions related to explicit or implicit withdrawal does not have suspensive effect and a separate application must be submitted before the IPAC requesting the right to remain. There is no specific time limit set for the issuance of a decision but rather the law provides that a decision must be issued as soon as possible.
All decisions issued by the IPAC can be appealed before the Supreme Court within 14 days. The onward appeal before the Supreme Court examines only points of law and does not have suspensive effect. Moreover, this remedy is not communicated in the decision that rejects the appeal before the IPAC.
The Refugee Law allows access, before a decision is issued on the asylum application, to the interview transcript, assessment/recommendation, supporting documents, medical reports, and country of origin information (COI) that have been used in support of the decision. However, the vast majority of asylum seekers as well as legal advisors/representatives are not aware of this right and do not exercise it. Access to the aforementioned documents is also provided after rejection of the asylum application, which is mentioned briefly in the rejection letter. Again, the vast majority of asylum seekers and legal advisors/ representatives do not seem to be aware of this right or do not exercise it. Access consists of reviewing the file and taking notes of the documents before an administration officer of the Asylum Service; the copying or scanning of the documents is strictly prohibited. As documents are mostly in Greek, and some in English, such as COI reports, it is in fact impossible for an asylum seeker to effectively access their file as they will not be able to understand the content or take copies for someone to translate.
Procedure before the previous appeal body: the RRA
The RRA continued to examine the backlog throughout 2020 and ceased operations in December 2020. The procedure before the RRA was administrative, not judicial, and applicants had a right to submit an appeal without legal representation. However, without legal representation the chances of succeeding were extremely limited and due to the fact that legal aid was never provided by the state at this stage of the asylum procedure, only a small number of applicants are represented and are able to submit well-argued appeals against the decision of the Asylum Service. It was up to the discretion of the RRA to provide for a hearing and in practice, a hearing was very rarely provided for. Such hearings are not carried out in public and the decisions are not published, however a detailed decision is sent to the applicant.
The RRA could grant refugee status or subsidiary protection to asylum seekers. The average time taken to issue a decision varied depending on the case but often for well-founded cases reached 3-5 years to issue a decision. If rejected by the RRA, an asylum seeker has the right to submit a recourse before the IPAC.
Procedure before the current appeal body: the IPAC
The procedure before the IPAC is judicial. Asylum seekers can submit an appeal without legal representation, however, this is often discouraged by the Court itself as the procedures are very complicated. Moreover, in view of the problematic access to legal aid it is questionable how many applicants will be able to access this remedy with legal representation. It has also been noted that upon submitting the appeal and during court proceedings, applicants without legal representation rely heavily on court interpreters for assistance, including guidance for hearings and written submissions. As a result, the court interpreters fill the gap created by the lack of legal representation often leading to incorrect advice and guidance and in some instances raising questions of exploitation of applicants. Regarding the procedural rules followed by the Court, these are not considered sufficient, as they are extremely brief and, for most parts, refer to the procedural rules of the Administrative Court which examines only points of law. This has led to important gaps concerning issues related to asylum claims such as the examination of expert witnesses, examination of additional evidence or submissions of additional documents provided by the applicant during the procedures. EASO has identified the need to invest in enhancing the case management system and procedural rules of the IPAC as included in the 2021 operating plan for Cyprus.
Following on from the global escalation of Covid-19, the procedures before all national courts were suspended during the general lockdown (March-May 2020 and late January-February 2021) with the exception of urgent cases and/or cases with a deadline set by the Constitution, which includes all asylum related cases. During these periods, the Court Registrar of the IPAC received legal aid applications and appeals against asylum decisions and other related asylum cases (i.e., family reunification) but the proceedings were suspended. Only proceedings on detention orders were considered urgent and were examined.
Asylum seekers have a right to legal assistance throughout the asylum procedure, if they can cover the cost, as free legal assistance is not easily available and pro bono work by lawyers is prohibited by the Advocates Law, and may lead to disciplinary measures against lawyers.
Legal information and assistance at first instance
For the first instance examination, the Refugee Law imposes an obligation on the state to ensure, upon request, and in any form the state so decides, that applicants are provided with legal and procedural information free of charge, including at least information on the procedure in light of the applicant’s particular circumstances and in case of a rejection of the asylum application, information that explains the reasons for the decision and the possible remedies and deadlines.
According to the law, such information can be provided by:
- Non-governmental organisations;
- Professional public authorities, provided that they secure the consent of the state authorities;
- Specialised government agencies, provided that they secure the consent of the specialised government agencies;
- Private lawyers or legal advisers;
- The Asylum Service officers who are not involved in processing applications.
Finally, the Head of the Asylum Service has the right to reject a request for free legal and procedural information provided that it is demonstrated the applicant has sufficient resources. The Head may require for any costs granted to be reimbursed wholly or partially if and when the applicant’s financial situation has improved considerably or if the decision to grant such costs was taken on the basis of false information supplied by the applicant. If the applicant refuses or fails to satisfy this requirement, the Head may take legal action to recover the relevant amount due as a civil debt to the RoC.
In practice, the only free legal assistance available at the first instance examination is extremely limited and under funded projects. Due to the lack of state-provided legal assistance, UNHCR has consistently funded the project “Strengthening Asylum in Cyprus”, implemented by the NGO Future Worlds Centre from 2006-2017 and by the Cyprus Refugee Council since 2018 until present. The project provides for three lawyers for all asylum seekers and beneficiaries of international protection in the country and, therefore, concentrates on provision of legal advice to as many persons as possible and legal representation only for selected cases (mostly precedent-setting cases). In 2020, approximately 400 persons received legal advice from the CyRC whereas the number of pending asylum applications are approximately 19,000.
Although legal assistance was included as a priority under the Asylum, Migration and Integration Fund (AMIF) at a national level, a relevant call for proposals has not been issued since the introduction of the AMIF. The lack of legal assistance provided by the state, the lack of funding for non-state actors to provide such assistance combined with the lack of any information provided currently by the state (see section on Information for Asylum Seekers and Access to NGOs and UNHCR) leads to a major gap in the asylum procedures in Cyprus.
Regardless of the significant rise in the number of asylum applicants in recent years, there was no indication that the state has taken steps to ensure the right to free legal and procedural information. The only reference to the provision of information is mentioned in the 2021 EASO operational plan for Cyprus and only for persons in the First Reception Centre, Pournara.
Asylum seekers reach NGOs providing legal assistance primarily through word of mouth, especially since the information available to asylum seekers is often not available or outdated (see section on Information for Asylum Seekers and Access to NGOs and UNHCR) or via other NGOs that may not have legal assistance and may refer asylum seekers to NGOs that do. Individual officers working in various departments of the government that come into contact with asylum seekers may refer them to NGOs to receive legal assistance, whereas asylum seekers residing in the reception centre may be referred by the staff working there. In the case of asylum seekers in detention, they come into contact with NGOs again through other detainees but also by NGOs carrying out monitoring visits to the detention centre.
Legal assistance in appeals
Legal aid is offered by the state only at the judicial examination of the asylum application before the International Protection Administrative Court (IPAC). The application for legal aid is subject to a “means and merits” test. According to this test, an asylum seeker applying for legal aid must show that he or she does not have the means to pay for the services of a lawyer. This claim will be examined by an officer of the Social Welfare Services who submits a report to the IPAC. In the majority of cases, asylum seekers are recognised not to have sufficient resources.
Regarding the “merits” part of the test, which is extremely difficult to satisfy, the applicant must show that the “the appeal has a real chance of success”. This means that asylum seekers must convince the judge, without the assistance of a lawyer, that there is a possibility the Court may rule in their favour if it later examines the appeal. Additionally, in this process the state lawyer representing the Republic acts as opponent and always submits reasons why the appeal does not have a real chance of success and why Legal Aid should not be provided, which leads to an extremely unequal process. As a result, it remains nearly impossible for a person with no legal background to satisfy this requirement and since the 2010 amendment of the law for Legal Aid which extended legal aid to the asylum procedure, very few applications for legal aid have been submitted and even less granted.
Although IPAC initiated operations in June 2019, at the time of publication of this report, no detailed statistics are available. Furthermore, the decisions issued by IPAC, including legal aid decisions, were not published systematically on the online platforms CyLaw, and Leginet as is done with all other Courts in Cyprus. This has made it difficult to observe the number of applications for legal aid and the success rate as statistics are not released.
Furthermore, in cases where legal aid is granted the court fees need to be covered up front, which are €96 if the applicant submits without a lawyer and €137 if submitted with a lawyer. This amount, along with other expenses, will be reimbursed after the conclusion of the case but with extremely long delays; such delays occur in all court cases and are not limited to asylum-related cases, however this also acts as deterrent to lawyers to take up cases under legal aid.
The UN Committee against Torture (UNCAT) has stated in its fifth report on Cyprus of 2019 that it is concerned that prospective recipients for legal aid must argue before a court to convince it about the prospects of success of their claim before being granted legal aid. Moreover, the report of the Working Group on the Universal Periodic Review of Cyprus included a recommendation to ensure that asylum seekers have free legal aid during the examination of their application in the first instance and from the assistance of a lawyer.
 Only upon request of the applicant. The applicant must review the file which is in Greek. A copy of the detailed reasons is not provided to the applicant or to legal representative, they can only take notes.
 Includes all appeals submitted relevant to the Refugee Law, therefore although the vast majority are appeals related to international protection claims the number also includes appeals against detention orders, family reunification decisions, reception condition decisions etc.
 Article 13(5) Refugee Law.
 Article 13(6)(a) Refugee Law.
 Article 13(6)(b) Refugee Law.
 Article 13(7) and Article 16 Refugee Law.
 Article 13(8) Refugee Law.
 Article 13(9) Refugee Law.
 Article 13(10) Refugee Law.
 Information provided by the Cyprus Refugee Council.
 Information provided by EASO, 13 February 2019. EASO does not take the actual decision on the application, as this remains within the remit of the Asylum Service.
. Information provided by EASO, 26 February 2021.
 Article 12E Refugee Law.
 Within the meaning of Article 9KΔ Refugee Law.
 EASO, Special support plan to Cyprus – Amendment No 4, December 2017, Measure CY 8.1.
 Information provided by EASO, 26 February 2021.
 Information provided by EASO, 26 February 2021.
 Note that this is also a ground for using the accelerated procedure.
 Article 13A(1) Refugee Law.
 Article 13A(2) Refugee Law.
 Information provided by the Cyprus Refugee Council.
 Information provided by the Cyprus Refugee Council.
 Information provided by the Cyprus Refugee Council.
 Article 13A(1A) Refugee Law.
 ECRE, The role of EASO operations in national systems: An analysis of the current European Asylum Support Office (EASO) Operations involving deployment of experts in asylum procedures at Member State level, 29 November 2019, available at: https://bit.ly/3dcX6D0.
 Information provided by EASO, 13 February 2019.
 Article 13A(9) Refugee Law.
 Article 16(2)(a) and Article 18(3)-(5) Refugee Law.
 Article 13A(10) Refugee Law.
 Based on review of cases between 2006-2018 by the Cyprus Refugee Council and previously the Humanitarian Affairs Unit of the Future Worlds Centre.
 Information provided by the Cyprus Refugee Council.
 See ECRE, The role of EASO operations in national systems: An analysis of the current European Asylum Support Office (EASO) Operations involving deployment of experts in asylum procedures at Member State level, 29 November 2019, available at: https://bit.ly/3dcX6D0.
 Article 13A(9)(b) Refugee Law.
 Article 13A(9)(c) Refugee Law.
 Based on review of cases between 2006-2018 by the Cyprus Refugee Council and previously the Humanitarian Affairs Unit of the Future Worlds Centre.
 Information provided by the Cyprus Refugee Council.
 Information from legal advisors of the Cyprus Refugee Council present at the interviews.
 Information from legal advisors of the Cyprus Refugee Council on cases represented.
 Article 18(2A)(a)(i) Refugee Law.
 Article 18(2A)(a)(iii) Refugee Law.
 Article 18(1A) Refugee Law.
 Article 18(2B)(a) Refugee Law.
 Article 18(2B)(b) Refugee Law.
 Law N. 73(I)/2018 on the establishment of the Administrative Court for International Protection.
 Information provided by Cyprus Refugee Council.
 EASO Operating Plan 2021, available at: https://bit.ly/3ekBojo.
 Article 12A (1) Law N. 73(I)/2018 on the establishment of the Administrative Court for International Protection. (IPAC Law).
 Article 12A (2) Law N. 73(I)/2018 on the establishment of the Administrative Court for International Protection. (IPAC Law).
 Article 8 (1A) Refugee Law.
 Article 18(2B) and (7A) Refugee Law.
 EASO Operating Plan 2021, available at: https://bit.ly/3ekBojo
 Article 17(9) Advocates Law.
 Article 18(7Γ)(a) Refugee Law.
 Article 18(7Γ)(c) Refugee Law.
 Article 18(7Γ)(d) and (e) Refugee Law.
 Information provided by the Cyprus Refugee Council, which carries out weekly visits to the detention centre.
 Article 6B(2) Legal Aid Law.
 Article 6B(2)(b)(bb) Legal Aid Law.
 UNCAT, Concluding Observations on the Fifth Report of Cyprus, Committee against Torture, December 2019.
 UN Human Rights Council, Report of the Working Group on the Universal Periodic Review: Cyprus, Twenty seventh session, April 2019.