Criteria and restrictions to access reception conditions

Cyprus

Country Report: Criteria and restrictions to access reception conditions Last updated: 30/11/20

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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 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 of 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.

 

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 and have access to material reception conditions.

According to the Refugee Law,[2] 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,[3] the applicant has a right to submit an application for the provision of material reception conditions. However according to another provision of the law,[4] the confirmation that the application has been made is provided three days after the application is actually lodged. Furthermore, the law allows six days to elapse between making and lodging an application.[5] 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.

 

This was evident in 2018, when a temporary document was issued to asylum claimants until the lodging of their application was feasible at the Aliens and Immigration Unit. This document did not, however, ensure access of persons to material reception conditions, health care and employment. The situation was alleviated during 2019, due to EASO officers being stationed at the points of submitting an application for asylum, expediting lodging of applications, as well as due to asylum seekers being referred to the Pournara First Reception Centre, where lodging of the asylum application and access to reception conditions was facilitated.

 

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,[6] issued as a Notification by the Council of Ministers.[7] This Notification has always been considered problematic as it sets additional requirements not foreseen in the law. In addition, the Regulations afforded to the Council of Ministers the power to determine the conditions and the level of assistance provided.[8] 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,[9] the Notification and the relevant application form are no longer in effect, however 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 the 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.[10]

 

Sufficient resources

 

However, and as mentioned above, the eligibility requirements, and the reasons for the termination of material assistance are regulated in the Notification,[11] which, whilst no longer in effect, is still used in practice. This Notification still includes the cancelled amounts which were provided for the coverage of reception conditions.

 

The Welfare Services, although not uniform across the country, require the applicant to submit the number on the Aliens Registration Certificate (ARC) in order to be entitled to the full level of reception conditions (coupons, personal expenses and rent). The ARC may be issued a few weeks after the issuance of the Confirmation of Submission of an application for International Protection, and additional documents are also reported as necessary in the application form, which may not be available at the time of the application for reception conditions.

 

In practice, the sufficiency and adequacy of resources cannot provide for a dignified standard living, which has been repeatedly raised in 2019 by NGOs, UNHCR,[12] Ombudsman’s Office[13] and the Commissioner for Children’s Rights.[14] This has led to many asylum seekers, including families with young children, living in conditions of destitution and relying heavily on charities to cover basic needs such as food. The same applies for housing, as the sharp increase of rents in urban areas as well as the lack of networking capacity among newcomers results in increased numbers of homeless people.[15]

 

Even in the cases where applicants 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 child care 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, and it is currently under revision by the authorities. Further monitoring is required.

 

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: If there is no vacancy in the reception centre, which is typically the case currently, 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.[16] 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 currently, following a Ministerial Decision in 2018,[17] 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. Also, the confirmation that there is no availability at the reception centre to host the claimant by the Asylum Service is often secured by direct telephone communication between Welfare Services and the Asylum Service, or even omitted due to the fact that 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 two-three 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) by the Aliens and Immigration Unit of the Police also contribute to the delays, as persons not holding an ARC number are not able to receive the amounts for the coverage of utility bills and minor personal expenses. Most delays involve the provision of rent subsidies (approximately one-two months) and the issuance of the allowance to cover electricity, water and minor expenses. During 2019, delays were also observed in the issuance of vouchers (see Forms and Levels of Material Conditions).

 

The application for material assistance can be submitted without a residential address, although there were sporadic reports indicating the opposite for a few cases during 2019. In the cases of newcomers, Social Services grant an emergency payment in order to secure shelter. However, this process can be time-consuming and the granted amounts are far from adequate in order to secure proper shelter arrangements. In addition, practical difficulties in obtaining certain requirements such as a rental agreement 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 unwilling to provide housing to asylum seekers are alarming. The rapid rise in demand for housing in urban areas throughout 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 at 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 recent months there are indications that it will be uniformly applied in all cases, increasing the risk of destitution / homelessness.

 

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 Employment office. 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.

 

All the above apply in the cases of single parent families with children over the age of two. Single mothers of children below the age of two may be granted an exemption allowing them to refrain from active job-seeking. Further monitoring is needed to assess whether such an exemption also applies to other vulnerable groups.

 

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 three months before being able to apply again to Welfare Services. The exact time of waiting before a new application can be lodged varies between Welfare Officers and the district office where the application is submitted. This is a very common reason for file termination in Welfare Services and according to the Cyprus Refugee Council’s experience, the most frequent reason for exclusion from accessing reception conditions by asylum seekers. Although the above policy is no longer in effect since the amendment of the Refugee Law, it is still implemented in practice until further notice.

 

As of March 2020, and due to the measures taken to combat the spread of Covid-19, the Labour department has stopped seeing unemployed persons. In respect of new registrations, i.e  for persons registering for the first time at the Public Employment Service as unemployed, or those wishing to register again after a previous closure of their file, a remote procedure was announced, allowing such requests to be submitted through fax or emails. However, in the first days of implementation there are already reports of asylum seekers being excluded from this procedure, without it being clear how this might affect their access to reception conditions.

 


[1]Article 11(B)(2) Refugee Law.

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

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

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

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

[6]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.

[7]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.

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

[9]Note 35(1)(δ) Refugee Law.

[10]Απόσπασμα από τα Πρακτικά της Συνεδρίας του Υπουργικού

Συμβουλίου Ημερομηνίας 6/5/2019, Decision number 87.433 available at https://bit.ly/3b9dT8b.

[11]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.

[12See 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.

[13]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.

[14] 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.

[15]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.

[16]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.

[17]Ministerial Decision 308, 26 October 2018.

 

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