According to the Law, reception conditions may be reduced or withdrawn by a decision of the Asylum Service following an individualised, objective, and impartial decision, which is adequately justified and announced to the applicant. Such a decision is subject to the provisions of the Convention on the Rights of the Child as the latter is ratified and incorporated into national legislation. However, there are no guidelines regulating the implementation of that possibility and, in practice, the enjoyment of reception conditions by children is dependent upon their parents’ eligibility to access them.
Grounds for reduction, withdrawal, termination of reception conditions
Under the Refugee Law, reception conditions may be reduced or – in exceptional and duly justified cases – withdrawn by the Asylum Service, where:
- The applicant’s place of residence has been determined by a decision issued by the Minister of Interior for reasons of public interest or public order when necessary for the swift processing and effective monitoring of the person’s application and such a decision has been breached;
- The applicant fails to comply with the obligation to timely inform the authorities in regards to changes of his or her place of residence;
- For a period longer than two weeks, and without adequate justification, the applicant does not appear for a personal interview or does not comply with a request of the Asylum Service to provide information concerning the examination of the asylum application;
- The applicant has submitted a subsequent application;
- The applicant has concealed financial resources;
- The applicant has not lodged an application “as soon as reasonably practicable”. The Refugee Law only allows for reduction of reception conditions in such a case. However, monitoring is required in order to assess how the provision is applied.
In addition, in the case of people residing in the community, the Social Welfare Service can also reject, in full or in part, an application for reception conditions, or can terminate in full or in part, the provision of reception conditions, if the applicant has sufficient resources to secure his or her subsistence and provide an adequate standard of living from a health perspective.
According to the new Ministerial Decision persons cease to be entitled to the provision of Material Reception Conditions when they do not meet the following requirements:
- When he/she is granted international protection status by the Asylum Service (Recognised Refugee status, Subsidiary Protection status).
- When the status of an applicant for international protection ceases. Specifically, the status of the applicant is valid until the date on which the decision of the Head of the Asylum Service becomes enforceable and is notified to the applicant and the deadline for filing an appeal against the decision of the Head of the Asylum Service has expired. The status of the applicant continues to apply, when he/she appeals to the Administrative Court of International Protection, against the decision taken by the Head of the Asylum Service until the final decision of the Administrative Court is issued. In case of a negative decision within the regular procedure with the normal procedure, the deadline for filing an appeal is 30 days. In case of a negative decision within the accelerated procedure, manifestly unfounded applications, withdrawals and for the other categories mentioned in article 12A of the law, the deadline for filing an appeal is 15 days.
- When she/he leaves the areas controlled by the Republic of Cyprus for any period.
- When placed in detention. In cases where the detained person is a family member, the provision of the material reception conditions of the family will continue without taking into account the proportion of the detained person.
- When he/she refuses a visit by the Director of Social Welfare Services (including an authorized representative) to the place where he/she lives or refuses to provide information in relation to any issue that will affect any decision that will be made during his assessment or re-assessment of the coverage of the material reception conditions.
- When she/he has concealed financial resources and has therefore unfairly benefited from the material reception conditions.
- When he/she refuses a job offer twice for reasons which are not considered objectively acceptable / justified. In case of refusal by him/her or another member of his family who can work, he/her will be deleted from the register of the Public Employment Service and will consequently lose any assistance he/her is entitled to by virtue of this capacity.
- The right to submit a new application after the applicant is considered voluntarily unemployed is granted after 4 months.
- When the applicant is employed, in the case of a family, the income from work should be less than the total amount of assistance to which the family is entitled, based on the specified amounts of the Material Reception Conditions. Otherwise, the Material Conditions of Reception are terminated.
Up to 2022, when asylum seekers were able to secure employment, the provision of MRC was immediately terminated without taking into account the sufficiency of the remuneration, again forcing asylum seekers into destitution. In 2021, the SWS had stated that there was an internal circular according to which MRC should not be terminated when an asylum seeker secures employment, but instead the allowance should be reduced according to the income received. However, there were no indications of such a practice being applied. In 2022, according to the new Ministerial Decision, if a member of the household is working and the income is lower than the foreseen MRC amounts, the family may be eligible to receive the rest of those amounts. Very few such cases were observed to benefit from this provision and further monitoring is required.
MRC are terminated by the SWS when an asylum seeker and/or their spouse is deemed “wilfully unemployed”. A person can be deemed wilfully unemployed in instances where they reject a job offer, regardless of the reason: not being able to immediately take up work because it is located in a remote place with no transportation available; 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; not being able to immediately secure childcare due to lack of funds etc. Two “unjustified” denials of employment are needed to terminate the MRC for persons. 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 to apply again to the SWS. The exact waiting time before a new application can be lodged varies between 2-6 months depending on the Welfare Officers and the district office where the application is submitted. This used to be the most common reason for the SWS to terminate material assistance for asylum seekers.
Throughout 2020 and until September 2021, the number of asylum seekers registered as willingly unemployed drastically reduced due to the decision of the Labour Department not to carry out new registrations of asylum seekers as part of COVID-19 measures. During that period, all asylum seekers who either had registered with the Labour Department prior to the pandemic or who wanted to register for the first time, received MRC without being submitting or renewing a labour card. The decision came several months after the initiation of the practice. In the meantime, 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. For those asylum seekers registered prior to the pandemic, the number of referrals to jobs in 2020 and 2021 was extremely low due to health measures.
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 country, asylum seekers are now required to register on a new online system, 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 an email address in order to communicate and forward documentation to the Labour Officers and efficient navigation in a complex virtual environment.
Μany asylum seekers, especially those lacking experience with similar tools, persons with limited English and Greek language skills and people without proper equipment (phones, laptops) were not able to register on time or use efficiently the system, while a deadline for beneficiaries to sort their online labour registrations, due in mid-March 2022, was announced, resulting in cuts or disturbances in receiving MRC. Since then, delays in following PES time frames for renewing labour registration online, often leads to disruption or termination of MRC. The new system hinders the Labour Office staff’s capacity to attend beneficiaries and in combination with limited face-to face interaction, beneficiaries are poorly guided to overcome practical obstacles in registering and using the new PES system.
Practice is a little more flexible for vulnerable persons, and specifically for persons with physical or mental health issues who are unable to work. Following an assessment by the SWS they will often be exempted from the duty of registering with the Labour Department and receive MRC. In the case of single mothers of pre-school children who are unable to take up work due to lack of childcare the practice varies depending on district, in some cases they may also be exempted from the duty of registering with the Labour Department, whereas in other cases they are obliged to register. Moreover, there are often reports of the Labour Office not registering mothers with young children as they consider that they are not able to take up work which has led to a disruption in the provision of benefits.
Regarding reception conditions provided in other settings, there were no incidents of MRC refused or terminated for asylum seekers in Pournara or Kofinou Reception Centers. The Reception/Pre-Removal Center, Limnes operated at the end of 2021 with small groups of asylum applicants being transferred to Limnes from Pournara camp. The majority had been issued with negative asylum decisions at 1st instance and a decision determining their place of residence as Limnes, with a proviso that should they decide to leave Limnes they would have no access to welfare assistance. The trend has been for persons to voluntarily leave the Centre and waive entitlements to welfare.
Decision-making and procedure
Any decision regarding the reduction or withdrawal of reception conditions should be based on the particular situation of the vulnerable persons, taking into account the principle of proportionality. In practice, this provision is not implemented. Therefore, vulnerable persons residing in the community may also find themselves without support.
Furthermore, there is no assessment of the risk of destitution by SWS, either during the examination of the application for assistance or before a decision is issued to terminate assistance. The sufficiency and adequacy of resources that can ensure a dignified standard of living are not taken into account. This situation often forces asylum seekers into destitution. For persons who are found to have concealed details about their financial situation, usually there is no legal action taken against them on behalf of the Welfare Services, apart from the termination of their welfare file.
The partial restriction of reception conditions only applies to persons not residing in a reception centre and, in particular, to persons receiving aid from the SWS. For those persons, rent allowance can be rejected if they are not able to submit all the required documents and other required information regarding the property they are renting, which currently include (apart from 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. For those persons, and according to the latest Ministerial Decree in 2022, the amounts allocated for bills and daily expenses are also reduced.
Decisions revoking welfare aid are often, but not always, communicated in writing, but do not include detailed information on the reasons. The assessment is carried out by Welfare Officers. The decision can be challenged judicially before the IPAC, however no such cases have been brought before the courts, mainly due to lack of access to legal representation and legal aid (see Regular Procedure: Legal Assistance). Regarding legal aid the Law allows persons to apply for legal aid against such decisions, however as in the asylum procedures a ‘means and merits’ test has been included, according to which, an asylum seeker applying for legal aid must show that he or she does not have the means to pay for the services of a lawyer and that “the appeal has a real chance of success”. To date, there is no information of applications for legal aid or cases being submitted in relation to reception conditions.
For people who have been rejected by the SWS and are not referred to a reception centre, the new Ministerial Decision sets a four–months ban before an asylum seeker is eligible to apply again. For any of the decisions described above, there is no assessment regarding the risk of destitution.
People who reside in reception centres can be evicted if they do not comply with the centre’s operation rules. According to the Refugee Law, a dignified standard of living, as well as access to care and support, should be secured for all asylum seekers whose reception conditions have been reduced or withdrawn, including for persons who were evicted by the Reception Centre for breaching its rules of operation. However, examples of such practice are scarce.
There has not been any limitation to the provision of reception conditions in relation to large numbers of arrivals. However, the numbers have aggravated the pre-existing systemic issues, such as difficulties accessing the SWS, delays in allocating MRC, frustration on behalf of frontline officers, and disrupted access to job-seeking services of the Labour Department. It also triggered a shift of the political discourse towards more stringent attitudes and measures by the Minister of Interior, including, among others, creating closed-type hosting centres as well as restrictions in movement for residents of Pournara First Reception Centre at various periods throughout the pandemic period.
 Article 9KB(1)(a) Refugee Law.
 Article 9KB(1) Refugee Law.
 Article 9KB(1)(a) Refugee Law.
 Based on information provided Cyprus Refugee Council.
 Based on information provided by Cyprus Refugee Council and Caritas Cyprus.
 Based on information provided by Cyprus Refugee Council.
 Based on information provided by Cyprus Refugee Council.
 According to information conveyed by more than 300 asylum seekers to CyRC as well as reports of other NGOs.
 Based on information provided by Cyprus Refugee Council
 Article 9KB(2) Refugee Law.
 Article 6A(6) Legal Aid Law.
 Article 6B(2)(b)(bb) Legal Aid Law.
 Article 9Δ Refugee Law.