Conditions in detention facilities

Cyprus

Country Report: Conditions in detention facilities Last updated: 28/04/21

Author

Cyprus Refugee Council Visit Website

The following section summarises findings of regular monitoring visits by the Cyprus Refugee Council in Menogia throughout 2020, as well as reports from other monitoring bodies as cited.

Overall living conditions

State of the facilities

Menogia Detention Centre, as well as the holding cells, are under the management of the Police, therefore the guards are police officers. The staff of Menogia Detention Centre is comprised of 80 full time and 15 part time police officers as well as a 13-person cleaning crew. Furthermore, an RSD examiner, a full-time doctor and a mental health nurse are appointed to Menogia and work on site. There are also service providers such as a dance teacher, an art teacher, and a gym instructor that visit the centre once every one or two weeks. During 2020, activities were suspended due to measures to address Covid-19.

In recent years, there have been sufficient improvements to the conditions in Menogia,[1] following recommendations made by the CPT, the Committee against Torture (CAT),[2] and the national Commissioner for Administration and Human Rights’ (Ombudsman) Office, which have led to less complaints about custodial staff behaviour, food, or outdoor access. However, as reported by the Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights, detainees in Menogia complain about the lack of activities, as well as the length of their detention, some of them experiencing re-detention.[3] The Commissioner also noted that detainees deprived of their liberty for months without any prospect of either deportation or release do not understand the purpose of their continuous detention and feel treated as criminals.[4] This leads to high levels of stress, and has resulted in several hunger strikes in Menogia in recent years, mostly by irregular migrants and rejected asylum seekers, along with a few asylum seekers.[5]

In Menogia, there are no serious deficiencies in the sanitary facilities provided, except from occasional reports on some toilets and showers being faulty. Most detainees are satisfied with the general state of the facilities and have mentioned that there is hot water and that they can shower at ease without time restrictions.[6] Overall, the cleanliness of the detention centre seems to be of a decent standard.

Since Menogia began operating, there have not been any reports regarding overcrowding. However, the overall capacity was deemed to be too high and conditions in the cells/rooms that accommodate detainees are cramped as there were eight persons/four bunk beds in an 18m2 room. The capacity has since been reduced from 256 to 128 places, and the cells/rooms now accommodate four persons with two bunk beds per room.

The provision of clothing in Menogia has improved in recent years, with the Red Cross Cyprus as well as other volunteer organisations providing clothes.

Detainees in Menogia, including asylum seekers have access to open-air spaces once or twice a day for about an hour or one hour and 15 minutes at a time, once in the morning and once in the afternoon. The size of the outdoor space is approximately the size of a basketball court.[7]

Regardless of the increase in the number of detainees in Menogia in 2020, there were no indications of overcrowding or deterioration of conditions.

Conditions in the holding cells of the various police stations vary but are overall considered to be sub-standard. In a report issued by the Ombudsman’s Office following a monitoring visit of the holding cell in Oroklini, Larnaca, the conditions were found to be below accepted standards and included issues related to lack of access to open-air spaces, overall cleanliness and hygiene issues, access to information and access to full set of rights.[8]

A similar report was issued in September 2020, again by the Ombudsman’s Office, based on a monitoring visit of a Pafos police station.[9] The recommendations include not using holding cells for purposes of immigration detention and moving persons to Menogia within 48 hours. Furthermore, increasing access to telephone and online communication; fixing doors to cells to ensure privacy; posting in every cell the rights of detainees; creating an entertainment area; and improving/fixing infrastructure on hygiene facilities. Finally, the report states that the practice of making detainees clean hygiene facilities must be terminated.

There is no information available whether the above recommendations have been implemented. In a visit carried out by CyRC to the Police Station in Lakatamia (suburb of Nicosia), all detainees mentioned that they each have a private cell with a shower and toilet. They also reported that the living space is clean and the building is cleaned by personnel hired specifically for this reason. However, detainees also reported that they usually spend 23 hours per day closed in their cells. Furthermore, one of the detainees complained that since there is no washing machine for their clothes, they have to wash them in the shower with body soap, which he stated led to a skin infection for which he was provided with medication.

Regarding access to open-air spaces for detainees in holding cells, the situation varies. Many lack sufficient open-air spaces and there are reports of detainees having extremely limited time outside. Furthermore, they do not have any recreational facilities.[10]

Food

In Menogia, detainees mentioned that pork is not included in the menu and the meat provided is mainly chicken.[11] It was also mentioned that during Ramadan the religious dietary requirements are accommodated. Other dietary needs for medical reasons are also accommodated, although it is not clear if this applies to cases of pregnant women and women breastfeeding, as in recent years there have been no such cases to monitor the issue. Regarding both quality and quantity, the level of satisfaction varied among detainees. Some detainees mentioned that the food tends to be repetitive for prolonged periods of time, with only the side dish varying. In 2020, there were increased complaints regarding food, with reports of finding insects in the salad or tiny stones in dishes with beans. After voicing complaints, the issue was raised with the catering company and in early 2021 detainees noted improvements.

Some detainees drink tap water that is available at the centre (safe to drink in Cyprus), however the majority prefer to purchase water from the water dispenser machine located in the centre yard; at approximately €1 for 20lt, or from a mini market close to the Centre. There are also vending machines available in every wing of the detention centre. They are in the process of installing water fountains with filters to encourage use of tap water. For purchases outside the Centre, there is a procedure to order items and the costs are covered by the detainees.

Regarding the accommodation of dietary requirements for religious or medical reasons, the situation in holding cells is similar to that in the Menogia detention centre, but quality and quantity varies from one holding cell to another. During a visit carried out by the CyRC to the Police Station in Lakatamia, detainees mentioned that they each have a bottle/cup for drinking water. When it runs out, they have to ask the police officers to refill their bottle/cup. This means they either have to shout out to a police officer or ring a buzzer that is supposed to alert police officers. All detainees mentioned the practice as problematic, while some mentioned that sometimes it takes the officers a long time to come and take the bottle/cup or to bring it back filled.

Activities

Detainees in Menogia have access to a television located in the communal area, and there are also some magazines and books provided by the Red Cross Cyprus. However, these are very limited in number and are mostly available only in English. Detainees have access to computers in the communal areas.[12] As of the end of 2016, detainees have access to internet via free WiFi through their mobile phones.[13] Access to WiFi is only available in communal spaces and not in the detainees’ cells. During access to open-air spaces, detainees can engage in recreational activities such as basketball, football, card playing, chess, and backgammon. Instructors for drawing, dancing, and a physical trainer carry out activities on a weekly basis, however detainees reported either not knowing of these or showed a lack of motivation or interest to attend. In any case, such activities were suspended in 2020 due to Covid-19.

In holding cells there are no entertainment facilitates, no reading materials, computers, or televisions and in most cases no internet access. Detainees are only allowed to use their phones when they are taken out of their cells which in certain Police Stations may be 2 times per day, one hour each. However, there are instances where detainees have reported being 23 hours in their holding cells.

Health care in detention

According to the Law on Rights of Persons who are Arrested and Detained, a detainee has a right to medical examination, treatment, and monitoring at any time during detention.[14] The relevant law does not limit this right to emergency situations and, from the testimonies of detainees, it can be concluded that they indeed have access to medical examinations, treatment, and monitoring in situations which cannot be classified as emergencies. However, the law provides for the criminal prosecution of a detainee who, if proven, abused the right to medical examinations, treatment and monitoring by requesting it without suffering from a health complication requiring medical examination, treatment or monitoring.[15] If a detainee is found guilty of this offence, he or she is liable to three years in prison, or a fine of up to €5,125.80. In practice it does not seem to be used and the CPT has recommended that it be removed from the Law.

Upon entry in Menogia, detainees are given medical examinations for specific contagious diseases e.g., Mantoux test for tuberculosis, HIV and hepatitis tests, but not a full assessment of physical and mental health issues.

The Medical Centre of Menogia is staffed with a General Practitioner on a full-time basis, from Monday to Friday from 07:30am to 15:00pm, and a nurse is assigned to the Centre three days per week for five hours per day. A clinical psychologist appointed by the Department of Mental Health Services visits the Centre twice a week. In cases of emergencies, or where it is deemed necessary, detainees are transferred to Kofinou Hospital or Larnaca General Hospital. During transportation, detainees are handcuffed, with the exception of certain cases of persons with disabilities, usually for the entire duration of transportation, and there is no indication that an individual security assessment is carried out on the necessity of this measure. Depending on the examining doctor, they may also be handcuffed during the medical examination, and usually a policeman or policewoman – depending on the gender of the detainee – is present or close by throughout the medical examination.

According to the law, any communication between the detainee and members of staff or police for purposes of medical examinations is deemed an “important” interaction and, therefore, authorities are obliged to ensure communication in a language which the detainee understands.[16] Based on the testimonies of detainees, due to the lack of interpreters available during the medical examination, other detainees are requested to serve as interpreters.[17] Although detainees seem willing to provide such assistance, in view of the sensitivity of medical information it cannot be considered to satisfy the requirement of the law.

With regard to psychological support, this is provided in Menogia by a clinical psychologist appointed by the Department of Mental Health Services.

For a detainee to receive medical care and be examined by a doctor during detention, a written request must be lodged on behalf of the detainee. These requests, if submitted in English or Greek, are attended to in a timely manner and with a prompt response, and there were no complaints regarding the time it took for a request to be processed and for the detainee to see a doctor. There is no available information of anyone attempting to submit such a request in another language so as to know if it would be accepted and if there are procedures in place to have it translated. Most detainees who do not write in Greek or English, or who are illiterate, will ask a fellow detainee or an officer to fill this request for them.[18]

Regarding access to medical care for detainees including asylum seekers being held in a holding cell at police stations, they are taken to state hospitals in a manner similar to that described above. However, the way in which such requests are handled may vary from one holding cell to another.

Special needs in detention

Families are not detained, and the plan to create a wing in Menogia for the purpose of detaining families with children has not moved forward until now. In the last two years, unaccompanied children are not detained, nor are mothers of young children. Women are always detained separately from men but there are no special provisions for vulnerable persons in detention.

There is no effective mechanism in detention centres (or out of detention centres) to identify and assess persons with special needs. Persons categorised as vulnerable before detention or during their detention will still be detained. There are designated sanitary spaces, i.e., toilets and showers, for persons with disabilities. There is no indication of other support provided for vulnerable persons.

 

[1]  CoE Commissioner for Human Rights, Cyprus report, 31 March 2016, para 1.3.2. See also KISA, ‘Improvements regarding detention conditions – significant problems regarding detention and deportation practices’, 29 January 2017, available at: http://bit.ly/2jJhL82.

[2]  CAT, Concluding Observations on the Fourth Report of Cyprus, 21 May 2014, available at: http://bit.ly/2jEBJOC.

[3]  CoE Commissioner for Human Rights, Cyprus report, 31 March 2016, para 1.3.2.

[4]  Ibid.

[5]  See KISA, ‘Abuse of power is leading detained migrants to desperate acts’, 5 April 2016, available at: http://bit.ly/2jmslOB.

[6] Information based on monitoring visits carried out by the Cyprus Refugee Council.

[7] Information based on monitoring visits carried out by the Cyprus Refugee Council.

[8] Ombudsman, Έκθεση ως Εθνικός Μηχανισμός Πρόληψης των Βασανιστηρίων αναφορικά με την επίσκεψη που διενεργήθηκε στα Αστυνομικά Κρατητήρια Ορόκλινης στις 30 Νοεμβρίου 2017, ΕΜΠ 2.17, 3 April 2018.

[9] Ombudsman, Έκθεση Επιτρόπου Διοικήσεως και Προστασίας Ανθρωπίνων Δικαιωμάτων ως Εθνικός Μηχανισμός Πρόληψης των Βασανιστηρίων, αναφορικά με την επίσκεψη που διενεργήθηκε στα Αστυνομικά Κρατητήρια Πάφου την 1η Σεπτεμβρίου 2020, ΕΜΠ 2.15, 24 Σεπτεμβρίου 2020, available in Greek at: https://bit.ly/3dFJ9yz.

[10]  ECtHR, Haghilo v. Cyprus (47920/12), 26 March 2019, available at: https://bit.ly/2Uru0Zh.

[11]  Ibid.

[12]  KISA, ‘Improvements regarding detention conditions – significant problems regarding detention and deportation practices’, 29 January 2017, available at: http://bit.ly/2jJhL82.

[13]  Ibid.

[14] Article 23 Rights of Persons who are Arrested and Detained Law.

[15] Article 30 Rights of Persons who are Arrested and Detained Law.

[16] Articles 18 and 25 Rights of Persons who are Arrested and Detained Law.

[17]  Information based on monitoring visits carried out by the Cyprus Refugee Council.

[18]   Ibid.

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