The main form of accommodation used by asylum seekers is private accommodation secured independently. There are no standards or conditions regulated for rented accommodation in Cyprus. Therefore, asylum seekers living in private accommodation may often be living in appalling conditions.
The measures announced in early 2020 to address migrant flows, included the following ‘In co-operation with the Local Authorities, an investigation is launched into the illegal residence of immigrants in inappropriate premises with the simultaneous prosecution of owners who exploit them by receiving state housing allowances that applicants receive.’ In practice local authorities were requested to investigate such residences and visits were carried out, however no action was taken. Currently such premises continue to be in use.
Overall living conditions in the Kofinou Reception Centre
The Asylum Service is responsible for the overall operation and financial management of the Kofinou reception centre. The daily management of the centre has been assigned to a private company while some services such as catering and security are provided by contractors.
The centre can host about 400 people, but the actual number of maximum residents varies according to the composition of the population. Current configuration allows for a maximum accommodation of approximately 250-280 persons. For the most part of 2020, the centre has been operating at full, or close-to-full, capacity.
Initiatives to build coordination between governmental and civil society actors started taking place in 2019, and a coordination meeting was organized. However, due to covid-19 restrictions, those initiatives were postponed throughout 2020.
Regarding the monthly stipend provided to residents, this has been raised to €100 for the head of the family, and to €50 for every other family member.
Kofinou Reception Centre consists of containers (mobile/temporary structures), with rooms designated to accommodate two to four persons depending on their size. There have been reports of more than four members of a family having to reside in one room, but not on a regular basis. Families do not share their rooms, while single persons do. Single men and single women use separate toilets/bathrooms. Families are placed in containers with two rooms (one for each family) where a common en-suite bathroom/toilet is shared. In the case of a family with many members, both rooms (i.e., the whole container) can be allocated.
According to reports of residents to the Cyprus Refugee Council prior to the pandemic, the cleaning of shared toilets/bathrooms had improved. Families must clean their own toilets. Complaints of not having enough hot water throughout the day were also rare. However, the breakout of the pandemic resulted in disruptions to cleaning/maintenance staff engagement, which subsequently resulted in an increased number of complaints regarding common spaces, cleaning, and repairs of infrastructure. Furthermore, reports of insects and snakes appearing in the premises, due to the location of the Centre, continue.
The Reception Centre is located near a unit that processes animal waste as well as a unit for incineration of animal waste. As a result, an unpleasant smell is regularly reported by residents and staff members and a relevant study was assigned to the Technological University of Cyprus, by the Centre management, to provide data on the quality of air. The report confirmed the presence of various dangerous and potentially harmful chemical substances directly associated with the products of the processing units and the abattoir at the Centre and the surrounding areas. The matter has come to the attention of various governmental offices (Ministry of Health, Ministry of Labour, State Laboratory, Dept of urban planning, Dept of Environment, and others) as well as the environmental committee of the parliament. However, the problem remains unresolved. The Ombudsman’s office issued a relevant report based on the above findings urging for an appropriate solution.
Residents are able to use two common kitchen areas and equipment, which is not considered adequate by residents. Three meals are provided per day and special dietary arrangements are typically accommodated.
Some complaints regarding quality, quantity and variety of the food are still observed and residents continue to request the option to prepare their own food, in suitable spaces. Plans to convert a kitchen and a dining area in a single dining area, have not yet been materialized. Pork is not served in the Centre, although Muslim residents from time to time have expressed their mistrust on whether there is any trace of pork in the food they are served.
The operation of the centre at maximum capacity translates to increased material needs in clothing, shoes, and kitchen equipment. Volunteer individuals, NGOs, and other institutions/organisations regularly provide supplies throughout the year, covering most of the demand, although the lack of consistency creates a sense of insecurity among the residents, especially for families. Despite the inability of volunteers to visit the centre, transfer of goods from the community to the Camp for dissemination was taking place during 2020. A new structure to host residents and volunteers in order to carry out activities, operating as an integration hub was developed, however no such activities took place due to the Covid-19 situation.
Prior to the pandemic, residents were allowed to go out when they wished, provided that they would not leave the centre for prolonged periods of time. This was not the case during the pandemic period as residents were not permitted exit unless for very urgent matters, such as health care reasons or meetings related to their asylum claims. The restriction also included attending religious services outside the Centre. At time of publication residents were allowed 2 exits per day, under the same Covid-19 restrictions applicable to all person in Cyprus.
Children in the Centre attend primary and high school in the community. In respect of the primary school, which is in the same village as the Centre, an interpreter for Arabic currently offers services in the school following a relevant request from the school administration to the Ministry of Education. No racist or discriminatory incidents were recorded and the integration of minors in schools is reported, overall, as satisfactory by residents. During 2020, and due to covid-19 measures, schools suspended operations for prolonged periods of time (including those attended by children residing in the centre). However, in November to mid December 2020, due to restrictions imposed on Centres for refugees and migrants, children from Kofinou were restricted from attending school physically while all other children in the country were able to attend school.
During periods where physical attendance was not allowed, children in the Centre were supported to follow online classes or to access other support provided by the schools and the Centre, using equipment provided by UNHCR.
In respect of Covid-19 related measures, where residents were found to be positive, they were transferred to hotels contracted by the authorities for quarantine purposes. Testing for Covid-19 is being carried out for residents from time to time.
Staff and activities
In May 2018, following the relevant decision of the Council of Ministers in March 2018, a director was appointed by the Ministry of Interior for the first time in Kofinou. There is also an assistant director appointed and both placements are stationed onsite.
In 2019, arrangements included: an NGO providing management services/social support in the Centre with 3 social workers and 6 administrators; 2 social workers from SWS (since October 2020); and support from EASO with 1 induction community link officer, 3 social workers, (with 1 being specialised in vulnerable persons), 4 interpreters (Arabic, Somali, French, Sorani, Kurmanji), and one security officer (responsible for the EASO staff).
Other staff members in the centre include 3 cleaners, 3 maintenance technicians, and 24/7 security officers.
A development, following demands of the residents and as foreseen in the Refugee Law, was the establishment of the “Committee of Resident’s Representatives”. The Committee carried out weekly meetings with the Director of the Centre, and a Code was signed between the residents and the Centre defining roles and recording procedures. Currently, the committee, though not officially, is inactive.
In relation to Health Services provided, there are currently two nurses (one of which a mental health nurse) offering services Monday-Friday until 13:00 pm. A pathologist and a psychologist, both appointed by the Ministry of Health, visit the Centre twice a week, but due to Covid-19 are now providing remote sessions.
In respect of educational/leisure activities in the Centre, these are organised and implemented mainly by non-governmental actors, such as NGOs, voluntary organisations, individual volunteers, and education institutions etc. Activities offered throughout the year included labour-related trainings, language courses, computer lessons, cultural, art/handcrafting, school support classes, occupational therapy sessions, and gymnastic classes as well as various other recreational activities for adults and minors. Since the pandemic, and due to restrictions, such activities have been indefinitely postponed.
Other facilities include two open-space playgrounds and gym equipment, a playroom, a library, and a computer room. There is Wi-Fi coverage in the centre but there are often complaints regarding broadband speed/coverage. The computer room, the playroom, and the library remain locked, unless there is a specific activity taking place.
Duration of stay
There is no specific duration of stay for asylum seekers in the reception centre. As long as the claimant of material reception conditions retains the status of an asylum seeker, he or she may be referred or obliged to stay in the centre. Upon the issuance of a final negative decision, the person is usually notified to make necessary arrangements to depart from Cyprus at once. In that case, people are allowed to remain in the reception centre until their removal. There are no reports of forced eviction.
In light of the centre reaching its maximum capacity and as a way to free up resources, the Asylum Service announced that residents who complete six months of residence in the centre would be given the possibility to apply for reception conditions in the community and to move out upon being granted support from the Social Welfare Services. However, due to the unsatisfactory levels of support provided to welfare recipients, residents were reluctant to move into the community.
A procedure to accommodate the transition of persons receiving International Protection to the community was planned, foreseeing the provision of financial aid/pocket money given directly to the former residents; two-month’s rent allowance in advance or the provision of one-week stay in a hotel in case they are not able to find accommodation before leaving the Centre; and informing Social Welfare Services of persons moving in the community. Due to Covid-19 the implementation of the procedure was put on hold and there are no indications when it may be implemented.
 Based on reports from asylum seekers to Cyprus Refugee Council social advisors and home visits carried out by the advisors.
 A/Δ4 /2019 & Α/Π 1658/2019.
 Article 9IZ(2) Refugee Law.