The report was previously updated in April 2020.
Access to the territory
- Push backs: In 2020, the Cypriot authorities, for the first time, carried out push-backs of boats carrying mainly Syrians, Lebanese and Palestinians who had departed from Turkey or Lebanon. 9 push backs were carried out in total, although other failed attempts of boats trying to reach Cyprus from Lebanon were reported. In December 2020, one final push-back attempt was made, but due to damages the boat was eventually rescued.
Access to asylum
- Suspension of access to asylum: From March to May 2020 the Aliens and Immigration Unit stopped registering asylum applications. No official decision or announcement had been made in relation to this and there was a lack of clarity as to whether this was a measure taken in response to Covid-19 or the high numbers of applicants. Some applications were refused on the basis that they were required to show a national passport while others were refused due to the reported lack of capacity at Pournara Centre. Although lockdown measures were lifted in May 2020, and new arrivals of asylum seekers was at an all-time low, access to asylum did not return to normal until August 2020 and after repeated interventions toward the authorities.
- Examination of asylum applications: The Asylum Service issued a total of 4,637 decisions concerning 5,394 applicants for international protection in 2020. A total of 6,651 new asylum applications were submitted and the recognition rate stood at 27.2% (90 refugee status, 1,020 subsidiary protection and 4,355 negative decisions). By the end of 2020, there were 19,660 pending asylum applications. Throughout 2020 due to the pandemic, there were periods where the examination of asylum applications was suspended, which led to further delays on the examination of these cases. The average length of the asylum procedure at first instance thus largely exceeds the 6-month time limit and mostly reaches up to 2 or 3 years before a decision is issued by the Asylum Service. However, efforts by the Asylum Service, with support from EASO, to increase the number of caseworkers examining cases including vulnerable cases have continued.
- Safe Countries: A new list of safe countries was published in May 2020, increasing the number of safe countries of origin from 1 to 21 countries. The aim was to examine all applications from safe countries under the accelerated procedures. However, in practice, the accelerated procedures were not used as much as expected throughout the year.
- Effective Remedy: In 2020, the Republic of Cyprus (RoC) amended the Cyprus constitution and key legislation to reduce time limits to submit an appeal against a decision before the International Protection Administrative Court (IPAC). In view of the amendment, appeal times were reduced from 75 days to 30 days for decisions issued in the regular procedure. For decisions issued in the accelerated procures, as well as for unfounded and inadmissible decisions; subsequent applications; implicit and explicit withdrawals; decisions related to reception conditions; decisions related to detention, determination of residence and freedom of movement; and decisions related to Dublin Regulation, appeal times were reduced from 75 to 15 days.
- Freedom of Movement: In February and March 2020, individuals were not allowed to leave ‘Pournara’ the First Reception Centre before completion of its construction due to the Action Plan to address flows of migrants in the country and as part of measure to address Covid-19 This policy continued throughout 2020 and into early 2021, with persons remaining in the centre for up to 5-6 months. Around 10 to 20 people could leave per day, with priority given to vulnerable persons and women, but only if they could present a valid address. In view of the obstacles in accessing reception conditions, identifying accommodation remains extremely difficult unless applicants are already in contact with persons in the community. The policy has resulted in severe overcrowding, substandard living conditions, and de facto detention. The situation has also raised concerns among UNHCR and the EU Commission. At the time of publication, the number of persons allowed to leave the Centre increased however there is still severe overcrowding and prolonged stays.
- Homelessness: The Pournara Centre has a capacity of 1,000 places but has been accommodating over 1,500 persons at times in 2020. As a result of overcrowding, certain persons were left homeless and unregistered. In an attempt to address this issue, the authorities set up tents outside the gates of Pournara, where approximately 200 asylum seekers were hosted in inadequate conditions and with limited hygiene facilities. In early 2021 there are still just over 200 outside the Centre.
- Material Reception Conditions: In October 2020 the Social Welfare Services terminated the practice of providing material conditions (food, clothes) in the way of vouchers. This practice received many complaints by beneficiaries as well as criticism from NGOs and UNHCR as the system is considered degrading and ineffective. The new system replaces the amounts provided with vouchers with cheques, but the intention is for these to be replaced by bank transfers.
Detention of asylum seekers
- Detention: 2020 saw an increase in the number of persons detained, including asylum seekers. Moreover, there was a substantial deterioration in the duration of detention for asylum seekers, from 1-2 months in 2019, to indefinite detention in 2020. Once detained, an asylum seeker will only be released if they are granted international protection. Whilst removal procedures had in practice been suspended from March to June 2020 due to Covid-19, no steps had been taken to release asylum seekers and other third-country nationals (TCN) already in detention. Furthermore, there has been a substantial increase in the use of holding cells in police stations for detention purposes throughout the country, the standards of which are considered
Content of international protection
- Residence Permits: In 2020 the Civil Registry and Migration Department (CRMD) continued to refuse to issue residence permits for family members including spouses, underage children, and children who reached the age of maturity as refugees in Cyprus, regardless of the country of origin of the spouses or the length of time they had already been in the country, leaving them without status and full access to rights. This led to persons who have been living for many years in the country to lose their employment and other rights. According to the CRMD, spouses will receive a humanitarian status without defining if they will have access to rights. Humanitarian status, as it currently stands, provides a right to remain but no access to rights (although exceptionally the right to labour may be provided).
- Travel documents: In mid-2020, the Civil Registry and Migration Department announced the issuance of a new type of travel document for beneficiaries of subsidiary protection (SP). As opposed to the previous one-page travel document – valid only for a one journey trip (laissez passer) and not recognised in the Schengen Area – this new travel document would enable many SP beneficiaries to visit their relatives in the EU. However, due to an influx of requests, the Department announced that travel documents will only be issued to SP holders who do not have access to a national passport and a preliminary examination will be carried out to examine this prior to issuing travel documents. To date no travel documents have been issued by the CRMD for beneficiaries of subsidiary protection, but they are expected to be issued in 2021.