Criteria and restrictions to access reception conditions

Cyprus

Country Report: Criteria and restrictions to access reception conditions Last updated: 08/04/22

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During the administrative and judicial instance of the procedure, asylum seekers have the right to access material reception conditions.

Specifically, according to national legislation, asylum seekers are entitled to material reception conditions as follows:

Regular and accelerated procedure: Asylum seekers are entitled to material reception conditions during both of these procedures. For both procedures, asylum seekers are entitled to reception conditions from the making of the application up to the issuance of a decision by the IPAC.

Dublin procedure: During the determination procedure to identify the Member State responsible under the Dublin Regulation, a person is considered an asylum seeker.[1] According to this, if a person arrives in Cyprus and there is a possibility that another Member State is the responsible state, then he or she is considered an asylum seeker and enjoys all such rights including material reception conditions. Regarding asylum seekers returned to Cyprus under the Dublin Regulation, if their asylum case is still under examination, they will be entitled to material reception conditions. If their asylum application has been determined, they are not entitled to reception conditions and may be detained.

Appeals: Appeals before the IPAC entail access to reception conditions until the issuance of the court’s decision. The appeal submitted before the IPAC for decisions issued in the regular procedure has suspensive effect and access to reception conditions until the issuance of the IPAC’s decision. Whereas an appeal for decisions issued in the accelerated procedure; subsequent applications; decisions that determine the asylum application unfounded or inadmissible; and decisions related to explicit or implicit withdrawal do not have suspensive effect and a separate application must be submitted before the IPAC requesting the right to remain.[2]

Subsequent application: According to the Law, once a subsequent application is submitted the applicant has a right to remain and access to reception conditions during the examination of the admissibility of the application. However, the Asylum Service may decide to terminate the right to remain and access to reception conditions when it evaluates that the applicant lodged a first subsequent application solely to delay or impede the execution of a decision which would lead to the immediate removal of the applicant from the RoC. The Law also states that the Asylum Service may decide to terminate the right to remain and access to reception conditions if the applicant has lodged a second or further subsequent applications to the Asylum Service, following the issuance of a final decision declaring the first subsequent application was inadmissible or after a final decision rejecting the subsequent application as unfounded, provided that the Asylum service is satisfied that any decision to return or remove the person in question does not involve direct or indirect refoulement.[3]

According to the Refugee Law,[4] when an application is made, the Aliens and Immigration Unit refers the applicant to the district Social Welfare Office and by presenting a Confirmation that the application has been made,[5] the applicant has a right to submit an application for the provision of material reception conditions. However according to another provision of the Law,[6] the confirmation that the application has been made is provided three days after the application is actually lodged. Furthermore, the Law allows for six days to elapse between making and lodging an application.[7] The transposition of the recast Reception Conditions and Asylum Procedures Directives into the Refugee Law is problematic as regards the distinction between “making” and “lodging” an application and, as a result, the point in time when access to reception conditions is actually provided.

From 2019, all persons wishing to apply for asylum who have recently entered the country in an irregular manner are referred to Pournara First Registration Centre for registration, lodging of asylum application, and medical and vulnerability screenings. In  2020, as asylum seekers were not allowed to exit the Centre for prolonged periods of time, it soon exceeded capacity and the authorities were not able to always refer people to the Centre and as alternative access to asylum procedures was not provided, persons were left unregistered and with no access to reception conditions. This led to persons trying to apply for asylum remaining homeless and sleeping rough near and around the Immigration Unit in Nicosia for days, before being sent to Pournara, where they were accommodated in tents outside the designated area of the facility. In early 2021, approximately 200 asylum seekers were placed in tents outside the Centre in extremely substandard conditions.

The situation did not improve throughout 2021, when extremely long delays in accessing the Centre and registering asylum applications were reported, leading to hundreds of persons waiting outside in dire  conditions. The delays were also caused by the fact that the Aliens and Immigration Unit of the Police carried out interviews on the routes followed and mode of entry into the country – as well as verification of identification and documents – before allowing persons to enter the Centre. Persons with a passport or some form of identification document were given access faster than those who had no documents, and many had to wait for weeks to access the Centre. In late 2021, based on recommendation from UNHCR a pre-admission section was created with chemical toilets, to accommodate people awaiting registration, which led to a significant reduction in persons awaiting registration. In early 2022, it was reported that daily, between 40 and 50 persons are not admitted at the Centre for registration after their arrival, and will have to return various times before being granted access.[8]

In the previous version of the Refugee Law, the conditions for granting material conditions and their level were not provided by the Law, but instead were included in an application form for the provision of material reception conditions,[9] issued as a Notification by the Council of Ministers.[10] This Notification has always been considered problematic as it sets additional requirements not foreseen in the Law. In addition, the Refugee Regulations afforded to the Council of Ministers the power to determine the conditions and the level of assistance provided.[11] Therefore, the conditions as well as the level of assistance foreseen in the Notification lack any legal basis. With the 2016 amendment to the Refugee Law,[12] although the Notification and the relevant application form are no longer in effect, the application and all elements included are still used in practice.

The Law provides that material reception conditions are provided to applicants to ensure an adequate standard of living capable of ensuring subsistence and physical and mental health. No other provisions are included in the Law determining the conditions and level of assistance provided. A relevant Notification by the Council of Ministers was issued on 6 May 2019, revising the level of material reception conditions.[13]

Sufficient resources

As mentioned above, the eligibility requirements, and the reasons for the termination of material assistance are regulated in the Notification,[14] which, whilst no longer in effect, is still used in practice. This Notification still includes the amounts no longer in effect, which were provided for the coverage of reception conditions.

The Welfare Services require the applicant to submit the number on the Aliens Registration Certificate (ARC) in order to be entitled to all reception conditions (food/clothing allowances, personal expenses, and rent). Delays in the issuance of the ARC impacts timely access to reception conditions. If an asylum seeker applies for welfare benefits without an ARC, he/she is usually granted a part of the foreseen amounts through vouchers, until the ARC number is issued. Since 2020 and up to now, delays in the issuance of the ARC did not emerge as a major obstacle in accessing reception conditions, due to the fact that the majority of asylum seekers who had recently arrived in the country were referred to Pournara First Registration Centre. As the duration of stay was on average between 45 days and 60 days, with some cases reaching 3-4 months, the ARC was issued during that period.  However, there are still reports of asylum seekers exiting the Centre without an ARC at times, which adversely affects their possibility to access to reception conditions in the community.

The level of material reception conditions provided to asylum seekers in the community does not ensure a dignified standard of living. This concern has been repeatedly raised in 2019 by NGOs, UNHCR,[15] the Ombudsman’s Office,[16] and the Commissioner for Children’s Rights.[17] This led many asylum seekers, including families with young children, to live in conditions of destitution, relying heavily on charities to cover basic needs, such as food. The same applies for housing, as the sharp increase of rent in urban areas in recent years is not compensated by the financial allowances provided to cover rent. The lack of networking capacity among newcomers and the absence of social housing policy has resulted in increased numbers of homeless people.[18]

In the cases in which asylum seekers are able to secure employment, the provision of material reception conditions is immediately terminated without taking into account the sufficiency of the remuneration to cover the basic and/or special needs of applicants and their family members, again forcing asylum seekers into destitution. In 2021, the Social Welfare Service informed that in fact there is an internal circular according to which material reception conditions should not be terminated when an asylum seekers secures employment, but instead the allowance should be reduced according to the income received.[19] However,  there are no indications of such a practice being applied, and further monitoring is required.

A positive shift in practice was observed in 2017 in relation to the conditions under which material conditions are granted to some vulnerable persons. More specifically, and following an assessment by Social Welfare Services, single mothers of children up to two-years-old who are unable to take up work due to childcare may be exempted from the duty of registering with the Labour Department without a disruption in the provision of benefits. This applies until the child/children reach the age of two.

Following short disruptions during 2019, the practice reinitiated before the pandemic, however at the moment, it is not clear whether it continues to be in effect.

As described in the following section, this is due to the changes in the Labour Office procedures after September 2021, which require all asylum seekers to go through a challenging, online registration process at Labour Department’s new online system, in order to receive material reception conditions. Social Welfare Services have set a deadline for beneficiaries to sort out their registration, therefore monitoring is required on whether single parents of children up to 2 years old who have not succeeded in registering, will be deprived of material reception conditions

Practical obstacles to access to reception

A number of major obstacles are encountered by asylum seekers that ultimately hinder access to reception conditions.

Submission of documentation in order to apply for material reception conditions: For people in the community, if there is no vacancy in the reception centre, which is typically the case, an application form for the provision of material reception conditions can be lodged at Social Welfare Services. The abovementioned application requires the mandatory submission of eight types of documentation for the applicant and each member of his or her family.[20] These include: an unemployment card from the District Labour office or medical certificate of inability to work from the Public Healthcare Unit; a rent/lease agreement, although the claimant may be homeless; confirmation of school attendance of the dependents; and a confirmation from the Asylum Service that there is no availability at the reception centre to host the claimant. Also, in order for rent to be subsidised, the landlord is expected to submit tax details on the rented property, otherwise asylum seekers can be deprived of their right to secure housing. The obligation to secure the above documentation can impede the access of asylum seekers to material conditions.

It should be noted that, following a Ministerial Decision in 2018, the unemployment card is not required for asylum seekers who have not completed one month from the date of submission of their application for asylum.[21]

Regarding the confirmation that there is no availability at the reception centre to host the claimant by the Asylum Service, it is either secured by direct telephone communication between Welfare Services and the Asylum Service, or typically omitted since the reception centre is almost constantly at full capacity.

Systematic delays in examining the application and granting the assistance: Currently, the average processing time of the application for material reception conditions at Social Welfare Services is approximately 2-6 months, depending on the district. This is due to various administrative difficulties, among which: staff shortages; demanding paperwork to be completed and documentation to be gathered and submitted by beneficiaries; the requirement for Welfare Officers to go through a time-consuming procedure for all asylum-seeking beneficiaries in order for the benefits to be approved every month; difficulties experienced by the applicants in  physically reaching and consulting Welfare Officers. Hindrances in the issuance of the Alien’s Registration Certificate (ARC) can contribute to said delays, as persons who do not hold one are not able to receive reception conditions in the community.  Although at the moment,  this is rare for most persons due to the process being concluded while they reside in Pournara Centre, asylum-seekers who, being identified as vulnerable, should be moved from the Centre before completing all registration procedures  may find themselves facing difficulties and significant delays in receiving MRC.

The application for material assistance can be submitted without proof of residential address. However, this process will deprive applicants of rent allowances. In 2020, the authorities moved hundreds of homeless or vulnerable asylum seekers already residing in the community either in private accommodation which they had secured on their own or in low budget hotels where they were placed by Social Welfare Services due to being homeless or vulnerable to Pournara Centre.

Currently Social Welfare Services only assist selected vulnerable persons with finding shelter in the community. For the vast majority of other asylum seekers, housing continues to be a major issue, and they often found themselves in destitution, facing increased risk of homelessness, appalling living conditions and exploitation by agents, landlords and other persons in the community.

Practical difficulties in obtaining certain requirements such as a rental agreement, a deposit, and/or advance payments, which are still not covered by Social Services, continue to generate issues in relation to securing shelter for applicants. Reports of landlords being unwilling to provide housing to asylum seekers are also alarming. The rapid rise in demand for housing in urban areas has led to a sharp increase in rent prices, making the gap between the allocated resources and rent prices even greater.

In addition, and as stated in the application form for reception conditions, a maximum amount is allocated to each house occupied by asylum seeking tenants regardless of the number of tenants, the relationship between them, and the number of individual contracts they may have with the owner in the case of shared accommodation. The particular provision on a maximum amount was sporadically implemented in the past, but since 2020 it is uniformly applied in all cases, increasing the risk of destitution and homelessness.

Practical obstacles related to COVID-19 related service arrangements of local Social Welfare Services Offices, are also notable, due to lower numbers of Welfare Officers being available to offer services in person. At the time of reporting, in Nicosia, large numbers of beneficiaries will need to wait for many hours outside the Offices in order to receive guidance/support or to resolve issues related to their applications which leads to additional delays in order for MRC applications to be processed.

Labour Office registration and attendance procedures

For asylum seekers to receive material conditions they must show to the Social Welfare Services that they are actively pursuing employment. Coverage of material conditions by Welfare Services is terminated when an asylum seeker and/or his or her spouse is deemed “wilfully unemployed”, upon referral to a job by the Labour Department. A person can be deemed wilfully unemployed in instances where he or she rejects a job offer, regardless of the reason. Such reasons may include not being able to immediately take up work because it is located in a remote place with no transportation available (bus, car etc.); not being able to move to a new property near work due to lack of funds; not being able to secure a written answer from an employer regarding the outcome of a referral; even when it is the employer’s fault; not being able to immediately secure childcare due to lack of funds etc.

Usually, two “unjustified” denials of employment are needed to terminate the material assistance provided by the Welfare Services (outside a reception facility). There is no procedure in effect to challenge such a decision, therefore in such cases, the alternatives for the persons/families are either to move to the reception centre (if there is a vacancy) or wait for approximately two-three months before being able to apply again to Welfare Services. The exact waiting time before a new application can be lodged varies between Welfare Officers and the district office where the application is submitted. This used to be the most common reason for the Welfare Services to terminate material assistance for asylum seekers.[22]

Throughout 2020 and until September 2021, the number of asylum seekers registered as willingly unemployed was drastically reduced due to the decision of the Labour Department not to carry out new registrations of asylum seekers as part of the measures to address COVID-19. During that period, all asylum seekers who either had registered with the Labour Department prior to the pandemic as well as those who wanted to register for the first time, were receiving reception conditions without being submitting or renewing a labour card.

It should be noted that the abovementioned decision of the Social Welfare Services, i.e  to grant material conditions to asylum seekers without proof that they are actively pursuing employment, came several months after the initiation of Labour Department practice. During that time, asylum seekers who were not permitted to register for the first time in Labour Department as unemployed were left destitute. The situation was particularly problematic for those who had their labour office files terminated/under review just before the measures were taken, since they could not receive material conditions.

For those asylum seekers who had been registered with the Labour Department prior to the pandemic, the number of referrals to jobs in 2020 and 2021 was extremely low due to health measures; as already indicated,  in such cases asylum seekers typically received material conditions without having to prove that they are actively pursuing employment.

A change in the registration and servicing procedure of unemployed persons was initiated in the second half of 2021. Along with all jobseekers in the county, asylum seekers also are now required to register on a new online system,[23] run by the Public Employment Services, under the Labour Department in order to get assistance to find work. The system requires the creation of an online account, creation/use of email address in order to communicate and forward documentation to the Labour Officers and efficient navigation in a complex virtual environment.

As a consequence, a large number of asylum seekers,[24] especially those lacking experience with similar tools, persons with limited English and Greek language skills and people without proper equipment (phones, laptops) have not been able to register on time or use efficiently the system. The new system has put extensive stress to labour Office staff capacity to attend beneficiaries and in combination with lack of face-to face interaction, beneficiaries are poorly guided to overcome practical obstacles in registering and using the new PES system.

As previously mentioned, Social Welfare Services are now requiring all asylum seekers to register and use this website in order to continue receiving or be able to claim material reception conditions, and a deadline for beneficiaries to sort their online labour registrations, due in mid-March 2022, was announced. Further monitoring is required on whether Material Reception Conditions will be cut or disrupted for asylum-seeking beneficiaries not being able to utilize PES registration system.

 

 

[1]  Article 11(B)(2) Refugee Law.

[2]  Article 8 (1A) Refugee Law.

[3]   16Δ (4)(a), Refugee Law.

[4]  Article 9IA(3) Refugee Law.

[5] The confirmation provided is titled ‘Confirmation of Submission of an Application for International Protection’.

[6] Article 8(1)(b) Refugee Law.

[7]  Article 11(4)(a) Refugee Law.

[8]  Information provided by the Cyprus Refugee Council.

[9]  KDP/2013 Published on 9 July 2013 in the Official Gazette of the Republic of Cyprus as a Notification by the Council of Ministers by virtue of Regulation 14(3) Refugee (Asylum Seekers’ Reception Conditions) Regulations 2005-2013.

[10]  Ministry of Labour and Social Insurance, Application for Material Reception Conditions of Applicants for International Protection (Αίτηση για Κάλυψη Υλικών Συνθηκών Υποδοχής Σε Αιτητές Διεθνούς Προστασίας), available at: http://bit.ly/1Sp11tQ.

[11] Refugee (Asylum Seekers’ Reception Conditions) Regulations 2005-2013.

[12]   Note35(1)(δ) RefugeeLaw.

[13] Απόσπασμα από τα Πρακτικά της Συνεδρίας του Υπουργικού. Συμβουλίου Ημερομηνίας 6/5/2019, Decision number 87.433 available at https://bit.ly/3b9dT8b.

[14]  Ministry of Labour and Social Insurance, Application for Material Reception Conditions of Applicants for International Protection (Αίτηση για Κάλυψη Υλικών Συνθηκών Υποδοχής Σε Αιτητές Διεθνούς Προστασίας), available at: http://bit.ly/1Sp11tQ.

[15] See e.g first Annual Integration Conference, organised by UNHCR, December 2019, concluding statements available at: https://bit.ly/2w3L91c; Open Discussion Event, organised by UNHCR and University of Cyprus, April 2019, press release available in Greek at: https://bit.ly/2Vm4ZiI; UNHCR and University of Nicosia, The living conditions of asylum-seekers in Cyprus, May 2018, available at: https://bit.ly/2IWKnsM; UNHCR, ‘Homelessness is becoming an increasing issue for asylum-seekers in Cyprus’, 23 April 2018, available at: https://bit.ly/39TtzvR; ‘Asylum-seekers complain to UNHCR about their deteriorating living conditions’, 15 December 2017, available at: https://bit.ly/33mnfdZ; ‘Η ζωή αιτητών ασύλου στην Κύπρο – Mαρί *, μητέρα και μηχανικός αυτοκινήτων’, 10 August 2017, available in Greek at: https://bit.ly/2ILghG1; ‘Λάουρα *, επιστήμονας και τραγουδοποιός’, 24 May 2017, available in Greek at: https://bit.ly/2von7hr; ‘Η ζωή αιτητών ασύλου στην Κύπρο – Άγια*, Νεαρή μητέρα από τη Σομαλία’, 9 May 2017, available in Greek at: https://bit.ly/38SnPBl.

[16] See Έκθεση της Επιτρόπου Διοικήσεως και Προστασίας Ανθρωπίνων Δικαιωμάτων σε σχέση με το θεσμικό πλαίσιο που ρυθμίζει την κάλυψη των υλικών συνθηκών υποδοχής των αιτητών ασύλου που διαμένουν εκτός του Κέντρου Υποδοχής’, availableat: https://bit.ly/2IY494l.

[17]  See ‘Έκθεση Επιτρόπου, αναφορικά με τις υλικές συνθήκες υποδοχής που παραχωρούνται στους Αιτήτες Ασύλου που δεν υπαρχει δυνατότητα φιλοξενίας σε κέντρα υποδοχής και της μεταχείρισης ευάλωτων προσώπων’, availabeat: https://bit.ly/2waIQtx.

[18] UNHCR et al., ‘Joint Statement on the growing problem of homelessness among asylum-seekers in Cyprus’, 9 May 2018, available at: https://bit.ly/2Uk557g.

[19] Information provided to the Cyprus Refugee Council in consultations with the Social Welfare Services.

[20]  Ministry of Labour and Social Insurance, Application for Material Reception Conditions of Applicants for International Protection (Αίτηση για Κάλυψη Υλικών Συνθηκών Υποδοχής Σε Αιτητές Διεθνούς Προστασίας), available at: http://bit.ly/1Sp11tQ.

[21]  Ministerial Decision 308, 26 October 2018.

[22]  Based on information provided by asylum seekers to Cyprus Refugee Council and Caritas Cyprus.

[23]   PUBLIC EMPLOYMENT SERVICE – Online Platform, available at: https://bit.ly/350YzwW.

[24]  According to information conveyed by more than 300 asylum seekers to CyRC as well as reports of other NGOs.

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