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.
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 and for the most part of the year the centre has been operating at full or close-to-full capacity. Infrastructure and arrangements in the centre had been heavily criticised by various asylum related actors during 2017 and early 2018 as inadequate to meet the needs of such a number of residents.
Steps have been taken including mainly infrastructural improvements and repairs, as well as an increase of the number of allocated administrative and support staff, which resulted in less complaints by residents. Initiatives to build-up coordination between governmental and civil society actors have also been observed but further monitoring is required.
With regards to the monthly stipend provided to residents, it 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 structure), with rooms designated to accommodate two-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 in three detached rooms. Families are placed in containers with two rooms (one for each family) where a common en-suite bathroom / toilet is shared. In the cases of a family with many members, both rooms (i.e. the whole container) can be allocated. Plans to replace older structures, present in the Centre since 2004, are planned and expected to conclude within 2020, as well as an expansion of existing capacity by 200 beds.
According to reports of residents to the Cyprus Refugee Council, cleaning of shared toilets / bathrooms has improved. Families must clean their own toilets. Complaints of not having enough hot water throughout the day still persist but are rare. There are often reports of insects and snakes appearing in the premises, due to the location of the Centre.
The Reception Centre is located near two units that process animal waste as well as a unit of incineration of animal waste. The presence of 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, in order 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 still persists and remains unresolved. The Ombudsman’s office issued a relevant report based on the above findings urging for an appropriate solution. Due to the health findings, a number of volunteers offering services in the Centre has ceased operations.
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 accommodated.
However, complaints regarding quality, quantity and variety of the food offered persist and residents have been perpetually requesting the option to prepare their own food, in suitable spaces. Information indicates that a kitchen and dining area will be converted into a single space similar to a restaurant, within 2020. Further monitoring is required. 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 eat.
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 families. This is particularly relevant at the moment, as due to the outbreak of Covid-19 and the enforcement of a general curfew, volunteers are not able to visit the site. A new structure to host residents and volunteers in order to carry out activities, operating as an integration hub, is expected to start operation within 2020.
Residents are allowed to go out when they want, provided that they are not out of the centre for prolonged periods of time. With regards to religious practices, a room has been allocated for that purpose. However, currently, due to the general curfew enforced in Cyprus, attending religious services outside the Centre is not allowed without a special permission.
Children in the Centre attend primary and high school in the community. In respect of the primary school, which is located 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 discrimination incidents were recorded and integration of minors in the schools is reported, overall, as satisfactory by residents. Currently, due to the covid-19 measures, all schools have suspended operations including the ones attended by children residing in the centre.
In respect of Covid-19 related measures, and as of currently, there is no comprehensive action plan in case of infections.
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 a private company providing management services in the Centre with seven persons, one private company providing social support with two staff members as well as administrative support with two persons and EASO providing social support / administrative services with two social workers, two administrative officers, three interpreters and one security officer (responsible for the EASO staff).
In 2019, EASO deployed two Member State experts to Kofinou for 12 months, four interim social workers and two-three interpreters.
Other staff members in the centre include four cleaners, maintenance technicians and 24/7 security officers. Currently, and due to covid-10 measures, EASO has ceased operations.
A recent 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 carries out weekly meetings with the Director of the Centre, and a Code has been signed between the residents and the Centre defining roles and recording procedures. The current Committee consists of five persons (three of them women) from Iraq, Kurdistan, Iran, Somalia, Cameroon and Zimbabwe.
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.
Regarding interpretation services, the current configuration includes three interpreters for Arabic and Sorani appointed by the Asylum Service, each working on an eight-hour shift, three more interpreters covering French, Arabic Sorani and Somali appointed by EASO who work on a daily basis, until 16:00 pm.
In respect of educational / leisure activities in the Centre, those are organised and implemented mainly by non-governmental actors, such as NGOs, voluntary organisations, individual volunteers, education institutions etc. Activities offered throughout the year include labour-related trainings, language courses, computer lessons, cultural, art/handcrafting, school support classes, occupational therapy sessions, gymnastic classes as well as various recreational activities for adults and minors.
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. Based on the Cyprus Refugee Council’s experience, the timeframe for the examination of asylum applications is on average two years. 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.
In light of the centre reaching its maximum capacity and as a way to free up resources, the Asylum Service had announced that residents who complete six months of residence in the centre will be given the possibility to apply for reception conditions in the community and 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 is also under implementation. Current arrangements include financial aid / pocket money given directly to the former residents; two-month’s rent allowance in advance, provision of one-week stay in a hotel in case they are not able to find accommodation before leaving the Centre; informing Social Welfare Services of persons moving in the community. Further monitoring is required with respect to assessing the efficiency of those arrangements.
Based on reports from asylum seekers to Cyprus Refugee Council social advisors and home visits carried out by the advisors.
 See in particular, Cyprus Mail, ‘Dire conditions continue at Kofinou’, 24 May 2017, available at: http://bit.ly/2FxzOXQ; Children’s Rights Commissioner, Έκθεση της Επιτρόπου, αναφορικά με τη διασφάλιση των δικαιωμάτων των ανηλίκων αιτητών ασύλου που φιλοξενούνται στο Κέντρο Υποδοχής και Φιλοξενίας Αιτητών Διεθνούς Προστασίας (ΚΥΦΑΔΠ) στην Κοφίνου σε θέματα Εκπαίδευσης και Φιλοξενίας, 16 January 2017, available in Greek at: https://bit.ly/38RxfwZ; Al Jazeera, ‘Inside Kofinou asylum centre, a life of grim uncertainty’, 25 February 2018, available at: http://bit.ly/2Co9GjJ; 24h, ‘Άθλιες οι συνθήκες διαβίωσης όσων διαμένουν στο Κέντρο Υποδοχής Αιτητών Ασύλου στην Κοφίνου’, 14 February 2018, available in Greek at: http://bit.ly/2BQEWXm; Sigmalive, ‘Τριτοκοσμικές συνθήκες σε Κέντρο Αιτητών Ασύλου στην Κοφίνου’, 14 February 2018, available in Greek at: http://bit.ly/2CAGlhp; KISA, ‘The miserable conditions at Kofinou expression of the wrong reception policy for asylum seekers’, 17 February 2018, available at: http://bit.ly/2ESRnjZ; Διαδράσεις, ‘Cyprus asylum centre conditions remain substandard’, 21 February 2018, available in Greek at: https://bit.ly/2Unr7Zu; Ombudsman, Τοποθέτηση αναφορικά με τις Συνθήκες Φιλοξενίας και Στήριξης στο Κέντρο Υποδοχής και Φιλοξενίας Αιτητών Διεθνούς Προστασίας στην Κοφίνου, 22 May 2018, available in Greek at: https://bit.ly/2TT7aJA; Cyprus Mail, ‘Conditions at Kofinou asylum centre remain substandard, human rights officials say’, 4 January 2017, available at: http://bit.ly/2F75Ufm.
 A/Δ4 /2019 & Α/Π 1658/2019.
Article 9IZ(2) Refugee Law.