Criteria and restrictions to access reception conditions

Cyprus

Country Report: Criteria and restrictions to access reception conditions Last updated: 28/04/21

Author

Cyprus Refugee Council Visit Website

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: When a rejected asylum seeker submits a subsequent application or new elements to his or her initial claim, they are considered an asylum seeker during the admissibility procedure and have access to material reception conditions.

According to the Refugee Law,[3] 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,[4] the applicant has a right to submit an application for the provision of material reception conditions. However according to another provision of the Law,[5] 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.[6] 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. However, in 2020 as asylum seekers were not allowed to exit the Centre, 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 are placed in tents outside the Centre in extremely substandard conditions.

In the previous version of the Refugee Law, the conditions for granting and the level of material conditions were not provided by the Law, but instead were included in an application form for the provision of material reception conditions,[7] issued as a Notification by the Council of Ministers.[8] 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.[9] 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,[10] 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.[11]

Sufficient resources

As mentioned above, the eligibility requirements, and the reasons for the termination of material assistance are regulated in the Notification,[12] 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. During 2020, 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 they were obliged to stay there for long time, often for many months, the ARC was issued during that period and was typically available to those who were permitted to exit the Centre, usually vulnerable persons.  However, there were still reports of asylum seekers exiting the Centre, without an ARC which adversely affects their access to reception conditions in the community.

The level of material reception conditions provided to asylum seekers in the community does not provide for a dignified standard living, which has been repeatedly raised in 2019 by NGOs, UNHCR,[13] the Ombudsman’s Office,[14] and the Commissioner for Children’s Rights.[15] This has led to 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 as well as the lack of networking capacity among newcomers has resulted in increased numbers of homeless people.[16]

Even in the cases where 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.

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. During 2019, this practice was interrupted for a short period, but reinitiated before the pandemic. Currently, due to Covid-19 related measures, 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, receive reception conditions without submitting/renewing a labour card.

Practical obstacles to access to reception

A number of major obstacles are encountered by asylum seekers in accessing material reception conditions 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.[17] 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.[18] In any case, currently, and due to covid-19 measures, newly registered asylum seekers are not required to present a valid labour card to Social Welfare Services for purposes of receiving reception conditions, as the Labour Dept does not perform new registrations of asylum seekers. Social Welfare Services acknowledged this practice and grant reception allowances to those asylum seekers. Also, regarding the confirmation that there is no availability at the reception centre to host the claimant by the Asylum Service, it is often secured by direct telephone communication between Welfare Services and the Asylum Service, or even omitted since the reception centre is almost constantly at full capacity. Finally, it is necessary to note that the Notification regarding the abovementioned documentation is no longer in effect, following the amendment of the law. However, it is still used in practice until the issue is regulated.

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 2-3 months. This is due to various administrative difficulties, mainly staff shortages, and the requirement for Welfare Officers to go through a time-consuming procedure for all beneficiaries in order for the benefits to be approved every month. Delays in the issuance of the Alien’s Registration Certificate (ARC) can contribute to the delays, as persons who do not hold an ARC number are not able to receive reception conditions in the community.

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 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 Camp. For those remaining in the community, or those who, due to vulnerabilities, were allowed to exit Pournara and return to the community, housing was a major issue and they often found themselves in destitution. Practical difficulties in obtaining certain requirements such as a rental agreement, a deposit, and/or advance payments, which are not covered by Social Services, continue to pose risks 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 from 2018 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 (which lacks any legal basis after the amendment of the Refugee Law), 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 during 2020, was uniformly applied in all cases, increasing the risk of destitution and homelessness.

For an asylum seeker to receive material conditions they must show to the Welfare 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; and 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). In such cases, the only alternative for the person/family is 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 is the most common reason for the Welfare Services to terminate material assistance for asylum seekers.[19]

By the end of 2020, the number of wilfully unemployed asylum seekers has been 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 and, therefore, material conditions are provided by the Welfare Services without job referrals. Furthermore, for asylum seekers who had been registered with the Labour Department prior to the pandemic the number of referrals to jobs in 2020 was extremely low due to the pandemic and, again, in such cases asylum seekers received material conditions without having to prove that they are actively pursuing employment. It should be noted that the decision of Welfare Services 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. It was a source of destitution for those asylum seekers who were not permitted to register for the first time in Labour Department as unemployed, but particularly for those who had their labour office files terminated/under review just before the measures were taken, since they could not receive material conditions.

The Labour Department’s practice implemented in 2020, by which no new registrations of asylum seekers are carried out, has further impacted the prospect of asylum seekers to secure employment. Such prospects had indeed already deteriorated due to the overall impact of the pandemic on the economy.

 

 

[1]  Article 11(B)(2) Refugee Law.

[2]  Article 8 (1A) Refugee Law.

[3] Article 9IA(3) Refugee Law.

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

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

[6] Article 11(4)(a) Refugee Law.

[7] 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.

[8]  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.

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

[10]  Note 35(1)(δ) Refugee Law.

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

[12] 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.

[13] 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.

[14] 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’, available at: https://bit.ly/2IY494l.

[15] 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’, availabe at: https://bit.ly/2waIQtx.

[16] 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.

[17] 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.

[18]  Ministerial Decision 308, 26 October 2018.

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

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