General

Cyprus

Country Report: General Last updated: 16/04/21

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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, although no individual assessment is carried out even where the persons have recently entered the country (see Grounds for Detention). In many such 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]

There are no official numbers available for the total number of asylum seekers who are detained. 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. 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.[2] In December 2020, there were a total of 169 persons detained, 115 of which were in Menogia and 54 in holding cells. Of the 169 persons, 82 are 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. The conditions of detention in police holding cells vary between different police stations, however they are all below standards.[4]

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, including creating 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 are now 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 has 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 1,500 persons, with an additional 200 persons living in tents outside the fences of the Centre. 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 throughout 2020 and with regard to it becoming a closed Centre can be observed in three phases: 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.[5] 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).[6] 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. 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.[7] 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),[8] as well as the Commissioner for the Rights of the Child.[9]

In early 2021, the situation has led to daily 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]

At the time of publication, the number of persons allowed to leave the Centre increased to around 50 persons a day. Furthermore, persons in the Centre who have completed registration are allowed two exits per day, in accordance with the measures to address Covid-19 applicable for the general public and exit cards have been issued for this purpose. Despite the above changes, there is still severe overcrowding with over 1,500 residents which is still above the 1,000 official capacity.

In early 2021 in a letter addressed to the Minister of Interior of Cyprus, the Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights, Dunja Mijatović raised 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 urges the Cypriot authorities to review the situation of the residents of all reception centres, starting with the most vulnerable. She also emphasises that since immigration detention of children, whether unaccompanied or with their families, is never in their best interest, they should be released immediately’.[11]

 

[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]  Based on information from cases represented by the Cyprus Refugee Council and interventions carried out as part of the case management under the Pilot Project on the Implementation of alternatives to detention in Cyprus, available at: https://bit.ly/3cF4WXC.

[5] Phileleftheros ‘Demonstration in favor 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.

[6]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.

[7] Ministerial Decree No 52 to combat Covid-19 ‘ο περί Λοιμοκαθάρσεως (Καθορισμός Μέτρων για Παρεμπόδιση της Εξάπλωσης του Κορωνοϊού COVID-19) Διάταγμα (Αρ. 52) του 2020’ available in Greek at https://bit.ly/3vNh6Fw.

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

[9]  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.

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

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

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