Within the framework of the Refugee Law, material reception conditions refer to accommodation, food, clothing, and a daily allowance. Material assistance can be provided in kind and/or in vouchers, and if this is not possible, through financial aid, as it is currently the case. In practice, after exiting Pournara First Registration Centre, and if there is no vacancy in the Reception Centre (which is the case most of the time), asylum seekers are allowed to file an application to the Social Welfare Services.
In relation to residents in the community being entitled to reception conditions and since October 2020, the allowances for food, clothing, utility bills, and minor expenses are provided by cheque, sent to the registered address of asylum seekers instead of vouchers as was done before. The rent allowance is payable directly to landlords. Residents of the reception centre are granted two hot meals per day and supplies to prepare breakfast as well as a monthly stipend of €100 for the head of the family and to €50 for every other family member.
Granting material conditions by cheque to an asylum seeker requires a bank account to be opened in his/her name. During the reporting period, a large number of complaints was received concerning the ability of asylum seekers to open an account, and thus their ability to access basic rights. The main issues identified concerned the documents required by banks (such as utility bills in the name of the applicant, rent contracts signed by two Cypriot citizens, police records from country of origin, and passports); significant delays in concluding the procedures; large discrepancies in bank account opening policies between branches/officers and the requirement for the applicant to speak good Greek/English.
In 2017, the Central Bank of Cyprus and the Association of Credit Institutions adopted the law 64 (I)2017 which transposed the European Union Directive 2014/92/EU on the comparability of fees related to payment accounts, payment account switching, and access to payment accounts with basic features (Payments Accounts Directive). In February 2019, the Central Bank released the “Directions/Instructions to Credit Institutions in Accordance with the Article 59(4) of the Prevention and Control Revenues from Illegal Activities for 2007-2018).” Articles 16 and 17(4) stress the right of accessing basic bank accounts without any discrimination against consumers legally reside in the European Union including asylum seekers, for reasons such as their nationality or place of residence.
Regarding Asylum Seekers, the above mentioned instructions of the Central Bank set the Alien Registration Certificate and the Confirmation for the submission of an application for International Protection issued by the Asylum Service as the required documents for opening a bank account. It is also indicated that if a credit institution has valid doubts regarding the originality of the documents, it should not contact any governmental agency or credit institution from the country of origin of the person but an appointed department in Cyprus.
Regarding the verification of the address of an applicant, credit institutions may visit the applicants’ residence or use other documents, such as a recent utility bill, documents issued by the State (Confirmation Letter, Alien book) or an affidavit to confirm this.
Following interventions by UNHCR and NGOs, as well as meetings between Central Bank, Asylum Service and Social Welfare Services, the situation was significantly improved. A sector wide Circular/Guidance Note was issued by Central Bank on 12 November 2020, providing clear guidelines to all banks regarding the documentation needed by asylum seekers. Furthermore, the Social Welfare Services began issuing a letter for purposes of opening an account for asylum seekers, confirming that the applicant is a recipient of material reception conditions, while the Asylum Service provides confirmation of residence status for applicants when needed.
Despite the significant improvement, various challenges such as the time needed for processing applications for opening an account, the requirement of a certificate from the (Cyprus) police, and effective communication in Greek or English, remain. It is also important to note that the abovementioned consultations mainly involve the two largest private Banks in Cyprus, which engaged in the dialogue, out of the 29 registered credit Institutions in Cyprus.
In November 2020, SWS sent a form to recipients of MRC asking them to submit their IBAN and authorise SWS to deposit the allowances directly in their accounts rather than by cheques, however this system is not in place yet.
The Refugee Law does not set the amount of material assistance provided to asylum seekers. It refers to assistance that would ensure “an adequate standard of living capable of ensuring their subsistence and to protect their physical and psychological health”. It also provides that the amount of the assistance provided should be in accordance with the amounts granted for securing an adequate living standard to nationals. Asylum seekers may be subjected to less favourable treatment compared to Cypriot citizens, especially when the amounts granted to the latter aim to secure a living standard which is higher than the one determined in the Refugee Law for asylum seekers.
Since 1 June 2019, and following a Ministerial Decision dated 6 May 2019, the amounts granted for covering material reception conditions have been revised upwards but remain low.
The detailed breakdown of the amounts granted to asylum seekers are as follows:
|Number of persons||Food, clothing and footwear||Allowance for electricity, water and minor expenses|
|Number of persons||Allowance for rent||Total amount of all assistance granted|
Although the Refugee Law has incorporated the recast Reception Conditions Directive’s provisions regarding the timely identification assessment and addressing special reception needs, there are no specific procedural guidelines, regulations, or documentation governing the implementation of those provisions. Thus, currently, the needs assessment does not include any special needs such as disabilities. These are therefore not taken into account. The officially ceased (but still used in practice) “Application for Material Reception Conditions of Applicants for International Protection” and the general requirements do not seek any information on specific needs and/or vulnerable circumstances the applicant and their family may have.
Currently, the amount to cover basic needs for nationals / EU citizens and beneficiaries of international protection is regulated by the Guaranteed Minimum Income (GMI) law and it is set at €480 (in cash) per month for one person, while the corresponding amount for asylum seekers is €261. The foreseen monthly rent allowance for nationals/EU citizens and BIP when it comes to a single person or a couple varies between €161.70 and €242 depending on the area where the person resides and increases to €235.20 – €352.80 for a family of three. The exact amount may be further adjusted without a cap due to the presence of special needs and the exact composition of the household.
For asylum seekers, rent is set at €100 for single persons and between €146 – €218 for two persons. It is increased to €211 – €317 for a family of three or four members and can reach up to a maximum of between €265 – €397 in case of families of four-five and above, without further adjustment. The Notification, which has officially ceased but is still used in practice, provides that non-related persons sharing a residence are also entitled to the same amounts for rent. This provision started being implemented by Social Welfare Services towards the end of 2017, although sporadically and not uniformly across districts. It was brought up again more systematically as a practice during 2019 and 2020, affecting the total amount of rent provided to unrelated persons sharing accommodation.
The maximum amount of material assistance for a household of five or more asylum seekers is capped at €1,155 (out of which €265 – €397 is for rent), irrespective of the number of family members. The rent allowance is directly payable to the landlords upon the submission of necessary documentation (e.g., IBAN and confirmation from Inland Revenue Department). In the case of nationals, under the new Guaranteed Minimum Income legislation, rent allowance is also paid directly to landlords and the possibility of further adjustments, depending on the needs of the household, is foreseen.
The material assistance was increased in 2019 for the first time since 2013 after repeated advocacy interventions from NGOs, UNHCR, and others about it being far from sufficient to cover the standard cost of living and housing in Cyprus. Such inadequacy still emerges when looking at the difference between the rent allowance amounts for nationals and for asylum seekers and undermines the obligation to ensure dignified living conditions for asylum seekers. Such a difference is also evident in the case of the allowances for daily expenses, food, and clothing. Property analysts and other stakeholders report an annual increase of 18% in rent prices, raising concerns as to whether the revised amounts are adequate to secure appropriate housing. The combination of a highly restrictive policy relating to the level of allowance and a sharp increase in rent prices has resulted in an alarming homelessness problem.
Asylum seekers are not entitled to any other social benefits granted to nationals such as: child benefits, which are proportional to the number of dependent children in the household; student grants, given to nationals who secure a position in university; the single parent benefit, in cases of single parent households; or the birth benefit given to single mothers if they are not eligible for a similar benefit from the Social Insurance office. Asylum seekers are also excluded from the grants/benefits of the Department for Social Inclusion of Persons with Disabilities, under the Ministry of Labour and Social Insurance, which include various benefits aimed to help disabled persons, notably, any special allowance for blind people; mobility allowance; financial assistance schemes for the provision of technical means; instruments and other aids; and care allowance schemes for paraplegic/quadriplegic persons etc.
 Article 2 Refugee Law.
 Article 9IB Refugee Law.
 «Οδηγία προς τα Πιστωτικά Ιδρύματα σύμφωνα με το αρ.59(4) των Περί της Παρεμπόδισης και καταπολέμησης της Νομιμοποίησης Εσόδων από παράνομες δραστηριότητες Νόμων του 2007 Εως 2018», Φεβρουάριος 2019 available in Greek at: https://bit.ly/3eVIxXF.
 Article 143, «Οδηγία προς τα Πιστωτικά Ιδρύματα σύμφωνα με το αρ.59(4) των Περί της Παρεμπόδισης και καταπολέμησης της Νομιμοποίησης Εσόδων από παράνομες δραστηριότητες Νόμων του 2007 Εως 2018», Φεβρουάριος 2019 available in Greek at: https://bit.ly/3eVIxXF; “Αιτητές διεθνούς προστασίας (των οποίων η αίτηση εξετάζεται από τις αρμόδιες κυπριακές αρχές και συνεπώς δεν διαθέτουν την ειδική άδεια διαμονής και το ταξιδιωτικό έγγραφο πρόσφυγα τα οποία ικανοποιούν τα κριτήρια (α) έως (γ) της παραγράφου 133 της Οδηγίας), δύνανται να ζητήσουν το άνοιγμα λογαριασμού πληρωμών με βασικά χαρακτηριστικά, προσκομίζοντας τη βεβαίωση υποβολής αίτησης από την Υπηρεσία Ασύλου του Υπ. Εσωτερικών καθώς και το Δελτίο Εγγραφής Αλλοδαπού.
 Article 126, «Οδηγία προς τα Πιστωτικά Ιδρύματα σύμφωνα με το αρ.59(4) των Περί της Παρεμπόδισης και καταπολέμησης της Νομιμοποίησης Εσόδων από παράνομες δραστηριότητες Νόμων του 2007 Εως 2018», Φεβρουάριος 2019 available in Greek at: https://bit.ly/3eVIxXF. “Πέραν από την εξακρίβωση του ονόματος, εξακριβώνεται και η διεύθυνση μόνιμης κατοικίας του πελάτη με ένα από τους πιο κάτω τρόπους: (i) επίσκεψη στον τόπο κατοικίας (σε μια τέτοια περίπτωση θα πρέπει να ετοιμάζεται και καταχωρείται στο φάκελο του πελάτη σχετικό σημείωμα από το λειτουργό του πιστωτικού ιδρύματος που πραγματοποίησε την επίσκεψη), (ii) η προσκόμιση ενός πρόσφατου (μέχρι 6 μήνες) λογαριασμού Οργανισμού Κοινής Ωφέλειας (π.χ. ηλεκτρικού ρεύματος, νερού), ή έγγραφο ασφάλειας κατοικίας, ή δημοτικών φόρων ή/και κατάστασης τραπεζικού λογαριασμού. Η διαδικασία εξακρίβωσης της ταυτότητας ενός πελάτη ενισχύεται εάν το εν λόγω πρόσωπο έχει συστηθεί από κάποιο αξιόπιστο μέλος του προσωπικού του πιστωτικού ιδρύματος ή από άλλο υφιστάμενο αξιόπιστο πελάτη ή τρίτο πρόσωπο γνωστό σε προσωπικό επίπεδο στη διεύθυνση του πιστωτικού ιδρύματος. Λεπτομέρειες τέτοιων συστάσεων πρέπει να σημειώνονται στον προσωπικό φάκελο του πελάτη.”
 Article 136, (i) «Οδηγία προς τα Πιστωτικά Ιδρύματα σύμφωνα με το αρ.59(4) των Περί της Παρεμπόδισης και καταπολέμησης της Νομιμοποίησης Εσόδων από παράνομες δραστηριότητες Νόμων του 2007 Εως 2018», Φεβρουάριος 2019 available in Greek at: https://bit.ly/3eVIxXF “Με τη διεύθυνση που αναγράφεται σε ένα από τα επίσημα έγγραφα για τα οποία γίνεται αναφορά στην παράγραφο 133 και που μπορεί να αντιπροσωπεύει ακόμα και την προσωρινή διεύθυνση του προσώπου που αιτείται την έναρξη επιχειρηματικής σχέσης (π.χ. ενός κυβερνητικού κέντρου υποδοχής αιτητών πολιτικού ασύλου ή ενός μη-κυβερνητικού οργανισμού που βοηθά το εν λόγω πρόσωπο). (ii) Με ένορκη δήλωση της διεύθυνσής τους καθώς και της υποχρέωσης να ενημερώσουν το πιστωτικό ίδρυμα, το συντομότερο δυνατόν, σε περίπτωση αλλαγής της διεύθυνσής τους.”
 Article 9IA(1) Refugee Law.
 Article 9IB(2)(a) Refugee Law.
 Article 9IB(2)(b) Refugee Law.
[11 Decision of Council of Ministers 87.433.