First Registration Reception Centre
The Emergency Reception Centre in Kokkinotrimithia (Pournara) is being converted into a First Arrival Registration Centre, expected to be concluded in April 2020. Throughout 2019, the Centre underwent construction to upgrade the existing infrastructure with the replacement of tents with prefabricated constructions. During this time, the Centre continued to be used as the construction is carried out on one section at a time. According to EASO, progress in 2019 was slower than expected due to delays in the much-needed renovation works and overall coordination challenges.
Currently, approximately 700 persons are accommodated and the expansion works continue with the aim reach a capacity of approximately 800-1000 persons, accommodated in both tents and prefabricated structures. A segment of the centre will be used as a quarantine area, and it will include a safe zone for vulnerable cases. Another segment will be used to receive boat arrivals and safe zones for unaccompanied children and other vulnerable persons are to be established.
Regarding referrals to the Centre, throughout 2019 all asylum seekers that have presented themselves to the Aliens and Immigration Unit in Nicosia are transferred to the Centre. In exceptional cases, asylum seekers presenting themselves in other cities, usually where they are homeless are transferred to the Centre. In 2020 and upon completion of the Centre the aim is for all asylum seekers that have recently arrived in the country to be transferred to the Centre. Currently the services provided in the Centre include identification, registration and lodging of asylum applications as well as medical screening and vulnerability assessment. The medical test includes tuberculosis screening (Mantoux test), HIV and Hepatitis. Asylum seekers’ movement is restricted within the premises of the Centre for 72 hours, until the results of the tests are concluded. In practice, if asylum seekers receive negative results on their medical test they will leave in five-seven days. If positive, the duration of stay may be longer as they will be re-tested and if found positive referred for medical treatment. Due to the high numbers of applicants in 2019, the tuberculosis screening and re-examination of cases that produced a first positive decision often led to delays in the stay and there were instances where asylum seekers stayed in the Centre for one month.
In early 2020, the Council of Ministers of Interior announced stringent measures, including creating closed centres. At the time, measures were also being taken due to Covid-19. Before complete construction of the First Registry Reception Centre, all new arrivals in the country are now referred to the Centre and are not allowed to leave. This has led to a rise in the number of persons in the Centre to approximately 700 without the infrastructure in place to host such a number, especially for a long duration and where such persons are being de facto detained. However, it seems that Syrian asylum seekers were allowed to leave, the justification being that they have relatives or friends that can provide accommodation. After strong reactions from asylum seekers in the Centre, the Asylum Service started allowing 10 persons per day to leave, giving priority to vulnerable persons and women but only if they could present a valid address. In view of the obstacles in accessing reception conditions, identifying accommodation is extremely difficult unless they are in contact with persons in the community.
However, given the announcement concerning the development of closed centres and measures due to Covid19, it is unknown how long persons will remain in the Centre.
In respect of Covid-19 precautions, leaflets with relevant information were disseminated to residents, however there are no indications that a concrete action plan is in place in case of infections.
Reception Centre for Asylum Seekers
The main reception centre is in the area of Kofinou in Larnaca District with a nominal capacity of approximately 400 people (the actual number varies depending on the composition of the residents, currently accommodating around 300 persons). The reception centre is located in a remote area (around 25km from the nearest city, Larnaca), with absolutely nothing around it except dry fields and sparse trees. It is near a village with a population of approximately 1,300 people. There are bus routes connecting the reception centre with the cities either directly in the case of Larnaca or through regional bus stations from where another bus can be used to reach other destinations. The reception centre is being expanded at the moment to hold a further 200 persons.
Most asylum seekers reside in private houses/flats, which they are expected to find on their own.
Due to the Reception Centre being full at almost all times, the Welfare Services bear the responsibility of processing applications and addressing asylum seekers’ needs, including the allocation of an allowance to cover housing expenses. The asylum seeker is expected to find accommodation and provide all necessary documentation. Although this documentation is included in the Notification, which is no longer in force due to the amendment of the Refugee Law, it is still used in practice.
Regarding the referral criteria of asylum seekers to the reception centre and since May 2018, the Asylum Service has decided to refer families and single women only. This decision was taken after an outburst of small-scale riots and the subsequent eviction of about 35 relocated residents (mostly men) from a specific ethnic group, members of which were allegedly involved in the riots. It also came after a media-covered public discussion and a joint statement of UNHCR and local NGOs sharing concerns over increasing rates of homelessness among asylum seekers living in the community. This decision did not affect single men already residing in the centre who were still able to remain in the facility.
During 2019, Social Welfare Services engaged in identifying private housing for homeless, or at risk of becoming homeless, beneficiaries, due to the very high number of persons in that situation. This practice was not uniform across districts, and at certain times during the year, was disrupted. The increased demand for housing options for asylum seekers has prompted local landlords to engage in offering apartments to asylum seekers, often contacting the Social Welfare Services in order to inform them about vacancies.
Social Welfare Services’ housing arrangements mainly involve newly arrived families with minor dependants. Placements are usually in budget hotels and apartments / houses in both urban and rural areas. Persons are usually placed for short periods of time and the cost of the hotel was deducted from the already low amount allocated for covering their reception conditions. In certain instances, it was observed that referrals/placements included premises with very low standards or were unsuitable, especially for families, and had poor infrastructure and a lack of necessary equipment / amenities.
Following the recent announcement of stringent measures in order to tackle migration flows and, soon after, the implementation of measures related to Covid-19, information was given to asylum seekers hosted in hotels that they should evacuate them. This followed a relevant ministerial order in relation to Covid-19 requiring hotels to close down. A number of those asylum seekers (approximately. 860 persons) are expected to be moved into Kofinou reception centre as well as at Pournara First Registration Centre. An attempt to evict the persons already took place in some cases, but the whole procedure was postponed until further notice.
 Information provided by Asylum Service.