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 Reception Centre, and if there is no vacancy in the Reception Centre, which is the case most of the time, asylum seekers are allowed to submit an application to the SWS for financial allowance.
In 2022, according to the new Ministerial Decision, material reception conditions include:
1) Financial assistance to cover basic needs (food, clothing and footwear)
2) Financial assistance to cover minor expenses, including electricity and water costs. The amount of the financial assistance to cover such expenses is determined according to the applicant’s place of residence.
3) Financial assistance to cover rent allowance to the owner of a property.
4) Advance payment of rent.
In practice an advance payment of rent is not provided.
Form of distribution of MRC
For residents in the community entitled to reception conditions, since October 2020 the allowances for food, clothing, utility bills, and minor expenses are provided by cheque sent to the registered address of the person instead of vouchers as was done before. The rent allowance is payable directly to landlords. 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 has yet to be implemented.
Granting material conditions by cheque to an asylum seeker requires them to have a bank account opened in their name, which was not required for vouchers. Since 2020, many complaints are received concerning the ability of asylum seekers to open an account, and thus their ability to access basic rights.  In 2020 and 2021 the main issues identified concerned the documents required by banks (such as utility bills on the name of the applicant, rent contracts signed by two Cypriot citizens, 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 or English. Furthermore, applicants are often requested to submit clear criminal record, in some cases from the Cyprus police and in others from the country of origin.
Regarding the issue of accessing bank accounts it should be noted that the Law and relevant Directions issued by the Central Bank, include 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. Specifically in the case of asylum seekers, according to the Directions of the Central Bank the ARC and the Confirmation for the submission of an application for International Protection issued by the Asylum Service are 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.
Despite the Law and relevant Directions issued by the Central Bank, access to bank accounts continued to be an issue. Following interventions by UNHCR and NGOs, as well as meetings between Central Bank, Asylum Service and Social Welfare Services, the situation 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 SWS 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. However, it is also important to note that the abovementioned consultations mainly involved 4 private Banks in Cyprus, which were willing to engage in the dialogue, out of the 29 registered credit Institutions in Cyprus
Improvements were noted however various challenges remained throughout 2022 such as the time needed for processing applications for opening an account, which increased reaching 5-7 months in certain districts. Furthermore, there was an increase in the incidents where banks requested a clear criminal record from the country of origin.
Level of material assistance
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.
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, the Ombudsman’s Office, and the Commissioner for Children’s Rights. As a result, many asylum seekers, including families with young children, live in conditions of destitution and rely heavily on charities to cover basic needs, such as food and other basic items. 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 and the absence of social housing policy has resulted in increased numbers of homeless people and high numbers of asylum seekers living in squalor conditions.
In 2019, and following a Ministerial Decision, the amounts granted for covering material reception conditions had been revised upwards but remain low. In 2022, the new Ministerial Decision introduced lower amounts for electricity, water and minor expenses for asylum seekers who do not submit a rental agreement.
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 (with rental agreement)||Allowance for electricity, water and minor expences (with no renatla agreement)|
|Number of persons||Allowance for rent||Total amount of all assistance granted
In comparison, for nationals / EU citizens and BIPs the amount to cover basic needs is regulated by the Guaranteed Minimum Income (GMI) law and 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 BIPs 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, and regardless of the actual rent cost, the rent allowance provided 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. Non-related persons sharing a residence are considered as a household for purposes of calculating rent allowances, and they are also entitled to the same total amounts per residence. Although an in advance payment of rent is foreseen in the 2022 Ministerial orders, no such payments have been observed yet.
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, confirmation from Inland Revenue Department) as well as documents submitted by applicants i.e. taxation stamps for agreements exceeding €5,000, signatures and ID numbers of two witnesses, a declaration by the property owner confirming the number of residents per room and the availability of rent/water in the premises as well as copy of the property title. 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 from NGOs, UNHCR, and others about it being far from sufficient to cover the standard cost of living and housing in Cyprus. Such inadequacy can still be observed 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 allowances for daily expenses, food, and clothing. Property analysts and other stakeholders report an annual increase of 18% in rent prices in 2018, 14% in 2019, and after a slight decline in 2020, a rise of 5,1% in 2021, and 19,6% during 2022, 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 a series of social benefits granted to nationals such as: child benefit; student grants, given to nationals who secure a position in university and the single parent benefit. 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 and services aimed to help disabled persons, notably a 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.
 Ministerial Decision 93.451, made on 28/7/2022, available at: https://bit.ly/3Yrn5wN
 Information provided by the Cyprus Refugee Council and Caritas Cyprus.
 Based on information provided by Caritas Cyprus and Cyprus Refugee Council.
 Law Regulating the Compatibility of Fees, Payment Account Switching, and Access to Payment of 2017, available in Greek at http://bit.ly/3rOCarV.
 «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;
 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. ”
 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 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.
 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.
 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.
 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’, available at: https://bit.ly/2waIQtx.
 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
 Απόσπασμα από τα Πρακτικά της Συνεδρίας του Υπουργικού. Συμβουλίου Ημερομηνίας 6/5/2019, Decision number 87.433 available at https://bit.ly/3b9dT8b.
 Ministerial Decision 93.451, made on 28/7/2022, available at: https://bit.ly/3Yrn5wN.
 Information provided by Cyprus Refugee Council.
 UNHCR, Living Conditions of Asylum Seekers in Cyprus, 2018, available at: https://bit.ly/39oGg0Q.
 RICS, Cyprus Property Price Index Q2 2018.
 RICS, Cyprus Property Price Index 2019 Q4.
 RICS, Cyprus Property Index 2021, available at: https://bit.ly/3qMVVST.
 RICS, Cyprus Property Index 2022 Q4, available at: https://bit.ly/3kJA8f4
 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; see also FRA Migration: Key Fundamental Rights, Concerns, see at: shorturl.at/brtCQ.