The report was previously updated in March 2019.
Arrivals / Pushbacks
Push backs: On Friday 20 March, the Cypriot authorities, for the first time, pushed back a boat carrying 115 Syrians, of whom 69 were children. They used Covid-19 as a justification for this measure. Reportedly, the authorities identified the boat prior to reaching the shores of the RoC Officers in uniform, wielding guns, boarded the boat, seized the mobile devices of the people on board, threw the devices overboard and directed the boat to leave the territorial waters of the RoC and return to Syria. Later on, during the day, the boat reached the shore in the areas not under the effective control of the Republic and the refugees were transferred to a stadium for the weekend. All were tested for Covid -19 and all were found negative.
Access to asylum
Suspension of access to asylum: During 2019, 13,259 first-time applicants applied for asylum in Cyprus. Whilst no official decision or announcement has been made to date, it is clear that the authorities are not receiving asylum applications, although there is a lack of clarity as to whether this is a measure in response to Covid-19 or the high numbers of applicants.We have received information from new arrivals in the country that had been denied access to the procedure. The initial information (dated 16 March 2020) concerned partial access. The Immigration Unit informed persons requesting to apply for international protection that they would not be allowed access without a national passport. A query was addressed to the authorities in an attempt to confirm or repudiate the information. It was neither confirmed nor denied by the public authority. As of 17 March, the responsible authority has denied access to the asylum procedure altogether, regardless of whether the person of concern had any identification documents. A total of 23 people have contacted the Cyprus Refugee Council (CyRC) and / or the partner NGO to report that they were denied access to the procedure. Among them were four unaccompanied children.
Accelerated procedure: Although an accelerated procedure was foreseen in national legislation for many years, in practice it had never been used. In 2018, in view of the significant rise in asylum applications, there were discussions on implementing the accelerated procedure and in 2019 for the first time a Ministerial Decision was issued determining Georgia as a safe country of origin. From then on, the accelerated procedure is being piloted for Georgian nationals and a wider adoption will most probably take place mid-2020.
Appeals: In order to ensure that asylum seekers in Cyprus have a right to an effective remedy, the relevant authorities had taken steps to modify the asylum procedure as follows: abolish the Refugee Reviewing Authority, which is a second level first-instance decision-making authority that examines recourses (appeals) on both facts and law, but is not a judicial body, and instead provide judicial review on both facts and law before the Administrative Court. In 2018, due to the heavy caseload before the Administrative Court, it was decided that a specialised court will take on the cases related to international protection and a new court was established, named the International Protection Administrative Court (IPAC). In June 2019, the IPAC initiated operations. Furthermore, in July 2019 the RRA ceased receiving new applications and will examine the backlog by the end of 2020 after which it will cease operations.
First Registration Reception Centre: The Emergency Reception Centre in Kokkinotrimithia (Pournara) is being converted into a First Registration Reception Centre, expected to be concluded in April 2020. Throughout 2019, the Centre underwent construction to upgrade the existing infrastructure with the replacement of tents with prefabricated constructions. During this time, the Centre continued to be used as the construction is carried out on one section at a time. The current capacity is 350-400 places. With the expansion, capacity will reach approximately 800 persons, with some 530 in prefabricated containers and the rest, where necessary, in tents. Regarding referrals to the Centre, throughout 2019 all asylum seekers that have presented themselves to the Aliens and Immigration Unit in Nicosia are transferred to the Centre. In 2020, and upon completion of the Centre, the aim is for all asylum seekers that have recently arrived in the country to be transferred to the Centre. Currently, the services provided in the Centre include identification, registration and lodging of asylum applications as well as medical screening and vulnerability assessments. In view of the measures taken to address migrant flows and Covid-19, the First Registration Reception Centre – which is lacking appropriate infrastructure or preparation – is being used as a closed centre.
Access to medical care: As of 1 June 2019, a National Health System (GESY) is in effect for the first time in Cyprus, introducing major differences in the provision of health care services. The new system introduces the concept of a personal doctor (GP) in the community as a focal point for referrals to all specialised doctors. A network of private practitioners, pharmacies and diagnostic centres has been set-up in order for health services to be provided, and in June 2020 a number of private hospitals are also expected to join the new health system for purposes of in-hospital treatment. For the most part of the population (Cypriots and EU citizens) in Cyprus, health services are now provided almost exclusively under the new health system. Asylum seekers, along with other segments of the migrant population, are not included in the provisions of GESY. Their access to health services continues under the provisions of the previous system, which basically entails treatment by public, in-patient and out-patient departments of the public hospitals. The transition to the new system created vast confusion among medical and hospital staff in regard to asylum seekers’ rights to health care. In various instances across Cyprus, persons were denied access to treatment in the hospital and were asked to register with GESY instead. Scheduled appointments with doctors who, in the meantime, had joined GESY were cancelled and access to particular medicine was restricted.
Detention of asylum seekers
Alternatives to Detention: In 2019, the International Protection Administrative Court (IPAC) issued two decisions, where the applicant challenged the detention based on article 9ΣΤ (2)(δ) of the Refugee Law, annulling the detention decisions on the basis that there had been a lack of examination of alternative measures to detention and an absence of a proportionality and necessity examination prior to ordering the detention. Furthermore, the Court ordered the release of the applicants with reporting conditions. This has led to an increase in detainees being released with reporting conditions, however, with no individual assessment taken on the suitability of such reporting conditions, including in respect of vulnerabilities.
Content of international protection
Residence status of family members of beneficiaries of international protection: In 2019, the Civil Registry and Migration Department (CRMD) ceased issuing residence permits for family members regardless if they qualify individually as refugees, leaving family members, including underage children, without status and full access to rights. The CRMD instructs all beneficiaries of international protection (recognised refugees and subsidiary protection holders) to proceed to the Asylum Service to receive a decision on whether they should receive the status of the beneficiary. The Asylum Service has taken steps to address the situation but it is still not clear if the CRMD will proceed with issuance of residence permits.
Family reunification: In 2019 the procedure once again became extremely problematic with the CRMD requesting all applicants, including refugees who applied within three months of receiving refugee status and refugees who had already received a positive decision on the family reunification request, to provide evidence that they have stable and regular resources which are sufficient to maintain the refugee and family members without recourse to the social assistance system of the Republic. This led to complaints being submitted by the Cyprus Refugee Council before the Commissioner of Administration and Human Rights, the Commissioner for the Rights of the Child and the EU Commission. Both the national Commissioners reacted immediately finding the CRMD to be in violation of the Law whereas the EU Commission is, to date, still examining the complaints. Furthermore, the examination of cases has once again become very slow with cases pending up to three years.