General

Cyprus

Country Report: General Last updated: 08/04/22

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Cyprus Refugee Council Visit Website

In Cyprus, most asylum seekers are not systematically detained. Asylum seekers who are detained are, for the most part, persons who have submitted an asylum application after they were arrested and detained, under the presumption that all such applications are submitted in order to frustrate the removal process, even where the persons have recently entered the country (see Grounds for Detention). In other cases, persons have been arrested for an irregular stay in the country or are detained as a consequence of a criminal law sanction and apply for asylum once they are in prison or detention. However, there are still cases of persons being arrested soon after arriving in the country, even though they presented themselves to the authorities to apply for asylum.

Asylum seekers can be detained in the Detention Centre Menogia, which is a pre-removal detention center and the only detention center currently in the country, with a capacity of 128 persons or they may be detained in holding cells in Police stations across the country. There are 18 such police stations with facilities for detention and the total capacity is 167 persons. [1] Holding cells should only be used for periods of 48 hours as the conditions do not permit longer stays (see Detention Conditions) and then transferred to Menogia, however due to lack of capacity in Menogia, persons are often detained for long periods in holding cells.

Based on monitoring visits carried out by the Cyprus Refugee Council, the average number of detained asylum seekers detained in the main Detention Centre Menogia at any given time has risen from 40 persons in 2017, to an average of 70 persons in 2020 and 54 in 2021. Furthermore, in 2020 there was an increase in the number of persons including asylum seekers, detained in holding cells in police stations throughout the country a trend which continued in 2021.[2] At the end of 2021, there were a total of 156 persons detained, out of which approximately 50 were asylum seekers.[3] There has been no official justification for the increased use of police holding cells, however it seems to be due to the lack of space in Menogia Detention Centre. Furthermore, Menogia should only be used to detain persons who are in removal procedures. Therefore, persons who have applied for asylum whilst in a holding cell, and while the detention order is issued based on the Refugee Law, should not be transferred to Menogia, although in practice this is not always adhered to.

In respect of persons detained for the purposes of removal, in Menogia Detention Centre and holding cells, whilst removal procedures had in practice been suspended between March and June 2020 due to COVID-19, no steps had been taken to release asylum seekers and other third-country nationals (TCN) in detention.

In early 2020, due to the rise in numbers of asylum seekers, the Council of Ministers of Interior had announced stringent measures, that included the creation of more closed centres. At the time, measures were also being taken due to COVID-19. As a result, and before completing ongoing constructions of the First Reception Centre, Pournara, all new arrivals in the country started being referred to the Centre (see Registration). The stay at the Centre is supposed to be for 72 hours and for the purpose of registration, lodging asylum applications, and medical and vulnerability screenings. Instead, throughout 2020, persons have remained for much longer periods in many cases ranging between 3-5 months. Furthermore, the terms for release are often unclear, change arbitrarily or impossible to be met, such as requesting a rental agreement. The situation had led to a significant rise in the number of persons in the Centre, initially from 350 to 700. Within the same year and following limited increase in infrastructure the capacity of the Centre has been declared to be 1000, however it currently holds over 2,000 persons.  The situation has led to severe deterioration of living conditions as there is no infrastructure in place to host such numbers, especially for a long duration and where such persons are being de facto detained.

The situation in the Centre, in view of it becoming a closed Centre, went through three phases throughout 2020: from February 2020 to June 2020; from June 2020 to November 2020; and from mid-November until present. Regarding the first phase in February 2020, there were signs of the irregular use of the Centre, such as asylum seekers not being released even though they had completed all the registration procedures. By March 2020, the practice of not allowing asylum seekers to exit the Centre increased and indications that the Centre was changing from “open” to “closed” was reinforced by the fact that the authorities started transferring, without prior notice, asylum seekers who had been living in hotels or apartments sponsored by the state, to the Centre. The treatment of asylum seekers during the first period was heavily criticised by civil society and had led to protests both inside the Centre by asylum seekers, as well as outside from organised groups.[4] In May 2020, when the majority of restrictions regarding the spread of COVID-19 were lifted, the Centre remained closed as it was declared an “infested area” due to a few incidents of scabies among residents (reports refer to 5-10 cases).[5] This decision led to further criticism as the measure was considered disproportionate to the situation.

From June to November 2020, the Asylum Service started allowing 10 persons per day to leave, giving priority to vulnerable persons and women, but only if they could present a valid address demonstrating they had already secured accommodation in the community. However, in view of the obstacles in accessing reception conditions, identifying accommodation is extremely difficult unless they are already in contact with persons in the community, which made it difficult for persons to meet the terms. In November 2020, with the second wave of COVID-19 cases in the country, a Ministerial Order was issued with measures to address the pandemic, including a complete restriction on exits or entries in any Reception/Detention Centre.[6] Entry/exit is only allowed for work, humanitarian, or other urgent reasons. Children residing in Kofinou Reception Centre who attend schools in the community were prohibited from attending school. Up to March 2021entry/exit from the Centres had to be approved by the Minister of Interior. The conditions have been criticised by the National Ombudsperson (who acted as the National Preventive Mechanisms Against Torture and the National Commissioner for the Protection of Human Rights),[7] as well as the Commissioner for the Rights of the Child.[8]

Overall in 2021 and early 2022, the duration of stay in Pournara Centre fluctuated with an average of around 45 days – 60 days, with some cases reaching 3-4 months, resulting in severe overcrowding as the number of residents surpassed 2,800 individuals, whereas the maximum official capacity is of 1,000, leading to inadequate living conditions, not in line with European standards. In February and December 2021 two Dutch Courts permitted asylum applicants whose first asylum country was Cyprus to be included in the Dutch asylum procedure because they would not have adequate reception conditions and that the alternative of returning to Cyprus entailed the risk of being subjected to degrading or inhumane treatment due to bad reception conditions. Both decisions also referred to Pournara and the low standard of conditions.[9]

Given the restriction of movement while staying in the Centre and depending on the length of stay in the Centre, in some cases the permanence in Pournara can amount to de facto detention.

Throughout 2021, the bad conditions and the length of stay led to frequent protests in the Centre by asylum seekers, most times peaceful, but at times clashes between residents broke out or damage was caused. During one of these protests, protesters broke the gates of the Centre and walked out in demonstration. Nevertheless, they all decided to return in the Centre after negotiations were made with the authorities and due to concerns it will affect their asylum applications.[10] In late 2021, MPs from the Human Rights Committee of the Parliament carried out a visit to Pournara and stated being appalled by the conditions.[11] In early 2022, another serious clash broke out among residents, arising from the same conditions, leading to serious injuries and damages.[12]

In early 2021, in a letter addressed to the Minister of Interior of Cyprus, the Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights, Dunja Mijatović remarked her concerns on the conditions in Pournara and called on ‘the Cypriot authorities to bring the conditions in reception facilities for asylum seekers and migrants in line with applicable human rights standards and ensure that they enjoy effective access to all necessary services. With particular reference to restrictions on freedom of movement which are applied as a preventive measure against the COVID-19 pandemic to the residents of migrant reception facilities, the Commissioner recalls that rather than preventing the spread of the virus, deprivation of liberty risks endangering the health of both staff and asylum seekers and migrants, as these facilities provide poor opportunities for social distancing and other protection measures. She therefore urged the Cypriot authorities to review the situation of the residents of all reception centres, starting with the most vulnerable. She also emphasised that, since immigration detention of children – whether unaccompanied or with their families – is never in their best interest, they should be released immediately.[13] While replying to such recommendations, the Minister of Interior noted, among other remarks, that normal procedures have been adjusted in order to meet the needs arising from the unprecedented situation caused by the second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic.[14]

 

 

[1]  Information provided by Cyprus Police.

[2]  Information based on monitoring visits carried out to Menogia Detention Centre by the Cyprus Refugee Council.

[3]  Information provided by the Cyprus Police.

[4]  Phileleftheros ‘Demonstration in favour of immigrants in Pournara (Video)’ available at http://bit.ly/3c8FLfX; see also, Cyprus Refugee Council Common Statement by NGOS, ‘Cyprus Refugee Council and Caritas Cyprus: Inhumane conditions in Kokkinotrimithia for asylum seekers’, 5 April 2020, available at https://bit.ly/2OTcOvu.

[5] Kisa, ‘The government prolongs the arbitrary detention at Pournara camp under the pretext of scabies’ May 2020, available at: https://bit.ly/3qWDjgR; See also, DW, ‘Cyprus: Anti-immigration scourge on the occasion of the pandemic’, available in Greek at http://bit.ly/3cdjNZn.

[6] Ministerial Decree No.52 to combat Covid-19 ‘οπερίΛοιμοκαθάρσεως (ΚαθορισμόςΜέτρωνγιαΠαρεμπόδισητηςΕξάπλωσηςτουΚορωνοϊού COVID-19) Διάταγμα (Αρ. 52) του 2020’ available in Greek at https://bit.ly/3vNh6Fw.

[7]  Ombudsman Report on Conditions in Pournara, 9 December 2020, available in Greek at https://bit.ly/3tG3VEs.

[8]  Commissioner for the Rights of the Child, Report on Conditions in Reception Centres for asylum seekers, 18 January 2021, available in Greek at http://bit.ly/3f3uiAc.

[9] Court of the Hague, case NL21.2036, available at: https://bit.ly/3IU5xCG; Court of Rb Amsterdam, NL21.17448 en NL.1745, available at: https://bit.ly/3KtS3Op.

[10] Alpha News, ‘Incidents of stone throwing and fires in Pournara’, available in Greek at http://bit.ly/2OOFZQC.

[11] Phileleftheros, ‘MPs in Pournara: “12 children stacked in containers”’ available at: https://bit.ly/3hVyn9N; Phileleftheros, ‘These are not images that honor us in “Pournara”, available at: https://bit.ly/3MG2EHA; Cyprus Mail, ‘Pournara Camp a Ticking Bomb’ available at: https://bit.ly/3JcYODG.

[12] Phileleftheros, ‘Pournara, a boiling cauldron – Clashes and stabbings’, available at: https://bit.ly/34ydDSu; Cyprus Mails, ‘Three injured during fight at Pournara’ available at: https://bit.ly/3CtGjIG.

[13]  Council of Europe, Commissioner of Human Rights, Letter to the Minister of Interior of Cyprus, available at: https://bit.ly/3mmJiuE.

[14]  Cyprus Mail, ‘council of Europe pressures Government over treatment of migrants’ available at: https://bit.ly/3iKDdaj.

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