First Reception Centre, Pournara
The Emergency Reception Centre (Pournara) has been converted into a First Reception and Registration Centre. 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 was 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.
From 2020 onwards asylum seekers who had recently arrived in the country in an irregular manner and presented themselves to the Aliens and Immigration Unit in Nicosia, were referred to the Centre. The services provided in the Centre include identification, registration, and lodging of asylum applications as well as medical screenings and vulnerability assessments. The medical test includes tuberculosis screening (Mantoux test), HIV, and Hepatitis.
The nominal capacity of the Centre is 1,000 persons. From 2020 onwards, however, it has surpassed its capacity reaching 2,800 residents, which has severely impacted the general living conditions. At time of publication the number was just over 3000 persons. Furthermore, there are reports of approximately 100 persons who are residing in Pournara irregularly, who returned to the Centre after they had exited as they were unable to secure accommodation in the community. In late 2021, based on recommendations from UNHCR, a pre-admission section equipped with chemical toilets was created to accommodate people waiting to be let into the Centre for registration, which led to a significant reduction in persons waiting outside the Centre. In early 2022, it was reported that about 40-50 persons arrive daily at the Centre who are not admitted for registration and will return the next days until access in given.
Residents are hosted in confined areas, where they are accommodated in prefabricated housing units, tents, and refugee house units, which were provided by UNHCR with the purpose to replace tents with more appropriate solutions. The Centre has areas without access to an electricity supply. The refugee housing units are, still used in parallel with tents, due to the authorities’ incapacity to upgrade housing infrastructure of the Centre.
In early 2022 there were no more available spaces in the housing units or tents, with residents instructed to sleep wherever they can find with persons reporting that they sleep two to a bed, on the floor or even in the playground.
There are quarantine sections in Pournara camp, and one safe zone intended to accommodate UASC, single women, and families after the quarantine period. In practice, many single women and families are still spread all over the centre, including the quarantine sections, with many persons remaining there for more than 4 months.
Reception places in the safe zone are allocated as follows; capacity for 132 boys (22 rooms x 6 per room; 3 bunk beds); capacity for 60 girls (10 rooms x 6 per room; 3 bunk beds per room) and capacity for 108 women (18 rooms x 6 per room; 3 bunk beds per room). Due to overcrowding, numerous children referred having had to share a bed with another child, or even having been placed to sleep on blankets on the floor. This led to 30 unaccompanied children staging a protest due to the conditions in Pourara in early 2022. The Commissioner for the Right’s for the Child issued a report, reiterating the responsibility of the state under human rights law to ensure food, protection as well as acceptable health and hygiene conditions for children at the Pournara reception centre. According to the Commissioner, the children are left with one bottle of water each, that “normally has to last the entire day”. Further, she described the hygienic conditions as “appalling,” and noted that “around 15 people sleep in each room, usually sharing beds, resulting in children often ending up sleeping on the floor. On top of that, the roughly 300 children housed at the centre are forced to share two toilets and a single shower room”. The intervention of the Commissioner led to a brief visit by the President of the Republic on 14 March 2022, during which he promised to ensure that “more humane” conditions would be granted in the future, but also pointed out that the reception system’s “deficiencies” are to be attributed to the high amount of new arrivals, and that the problem will be “dealt with accordingly”. According to President Anastasiades, asylum seekers represent nearly 5% of the population. Cyprus has the highest number of asylum applications per capita of the 27 EU member states. Further, on the same day the interior minister Nicos Nouris announced that 92 of the 356 children at Pournara have been relocated to hotels and that alternative accommodation for an additional 150 children is being identified. According to Nouris, the overcrowding at Pournara will be alleviated once transfers to a recently constructed reception centre south of Nicosia begins. Currently Cyprus has capacity for 160 to 170 children, but 769 minors remain in various facilities on the island.
Asylum seekers’ freedom of movement is restricted while staying in Pournara, for a time that can reach between 10 and 12 weeks.
In February 2020, due to the Action Plan to address flows of migrants in the country, and then in March 2020, as part of measure to address COVID-19, persons were not allowed to leave the First Reception Centre. This policy continued throughout 2020 and early 2021, with persons remaining in the Centre for periods reaching 5-6 months. At times, Syrian asylum seekers were allowed to leave, on the grounds that they had relatives or friends that can provide accommodation. After strong reactions from asylum seekers in the Centre, the Asylum Service started allowing 10 or 20 persons per day to leave, giving priority to vulnerable persons and women but only if they could present a valid address. Currently, residents may exit the Centre after completing all necessary registration procedures, typically after 45- 60 days on average.
The requirement to present a valid address in order to exit Pournara continues and in view of the obstacles in accessing reception conditions, identifying accommodation is extremely difficult unless they are already in contact with persons in the community. This policy was originally justified by the authorities as part of the measures to address the increase in migrant flows as well as to limit the spread of COVID-19. Regardless, it led to severe overcrowding, since no adequate infrastructure was in place to host high numbers of newly arrived asylum seekers. In many cases, the duration of stay reached 5 months and considering that persons had complete restriction of movement outside of the Centre, it become a de facto detention. This has led to demonstrations by the residents nearly on a daily basis, ranging from peaceful to forceful. The situation has also raised concerns among UNHCR  and the EU Commission.
Furthermore, in early 2021, in a letter addressed to the Minister of Interior of Cyprus, the Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights, Dunja Mijatović raised her concerns on the conditions in Pournara and called on ‘the Cypriot authorities to bring the conditions in reception facilities for asylum seekers and migrants in line with applicable human rights standards and ensure that they enjoy effective access to all necessary services. With particular reference to restrictions on freedom of movement which are applied as a preventive measure against the COVID-19 pandemic to the residents of migrant reception facilities, the Commissioner recalls that rather than preventing the spread of the virus, deprivation of liberty risks endangering the health of both staff and asylum seekers and migrants, as these facilities provide poor opportunities for social distancing and other protection measures. She therefore urges the Cypriot authorities to review the situation of the residents of all reception centres, starting with the most vulnerable. She also emphasises that since immigration detention of children, whether unaccompanied or with their families, is never in their best interest, they should be released immediately.’
In view of the obstacles in identifying accommodation due to COVID-19 measures, and the inability for residents to visit the community while residing there, it is extremely difficult to secure a housing contract, unless they are already in contact with persons in the community. This has resulted in many asylum seekers coming from African countries being confined in the Centre for disproportionately long periods of time, as they face more difficulties in obtaining such a document.
The duration of stay in Pournara Centre in 2021 was around 45-60 days on average, with some cases reaching 3-4 months, resulting in severe overcrowding as the number of residents often surpassed 2,800 persons whereas official capacity is 1,000, leading to severely substandard living conditions. In February and December 2021, two Dutch Courts permitted asylum applicants whose first asylum country was Cyprus to be included in the Dutch asylum procedure because they would not have adequate reception conditions and that the alternative of returning to Cyprus entailed the risk of being subjected to degrading or inhumane treatment due to bad reception conditions. Both decisions also referred to Pournara and low standard of conditions, whereas the first decision specifically mentioned that the information submitted by the plaintiff gives an impression that the emergency shelter in Pournara has become a closed camp, where the reception conditions are very bad and large riots have broken out.
Throughout 2021, the situation led to frequent protests in the Centre by asylum seekers, most times peaceful, but at times clashes between residents broke out or damage was caused. During one of these protests, protesters broke the gates of the Centre and walked out in demonstration. Nevertheless, they all decided to return in the Centre after negotiations were made with the authorities and due to concerns it will affect their asylum applications. In late 2021 MPs from the Human Rights Committee of the Parliament carried out a visit to Pournara and stated having been left appalled by its conditions. In early 2022, another serious clash broke out among residents, leading to serious injuries and damages.
In respect of COVID-19 measures, residents of Pournara and Kofinou Centres have been given access to the national COVID-19 Vaccination Plan.
Reception Centre for Asylum Seekers, Kofinou
The main reception centre is located 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 – it is currently accommodating around 300 persons). The Reception Centre is located in a remote area (roughly 25km from the nearest city, Larnaca, surrounded by dry fields and sparse vegetation. 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 connecting transport can be used to reach other destinations.
Regarding the referral criteria of asylum seekers to the Kofinou Reception Centre, 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 by 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 2020, admissions of single men from Syria did take place and the trend continued in 2021, mainly with persons from Somalia.
Residing in the Community
With the total number of asylum seekers reaching 16,000 and capacity of Reception Centres limited to around 2,500 persons, most asylum seekers reside in the community in private houses/flats, which they are required to secure on their own.
As the Reception Centre is at maximum capacity at almost all times, the Welfare Services bears 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 as part of this process.
During 2019, Social Welfare Services engaged in identifying private housing for the homeless beneficiaries (or those at risk of becoming homeless), due to the very high number of persons in that situation. This practice mainly involved Nicosia and not the other districts and, at certain times during that year, was disrupted.
Social Welfare Services’ housing arrangements mainly involved newly arrived families with minor dependants. Placements were usually in budget hotels and apartments/houses in both urban and rural areas. Persons were usually placed here 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 low standards or that were unsuitable, especially for families, and had poor infrastructure and a lack of necessary equipment/amenities.
However, in 2020, following the announcement of stringent measures 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 all hotels to close down. A number of those asylum seekers (approximately 860 persons) were moved into Kofinou Reception Centre as well as to Pournara First Registration Centre. Very few exceptions were made for vulnerable persons, and these were only made following interventions of NGOs. A number of people did not agree to move to Pournara and were deprived of reception conditions for prolonged periods of time.
Currently, usually following the identification of vulnerable cases in Pournara Camp and the interventions of NGOs suggesting that particular individuals should not reside in it, a small number of placements takes place. Towards the end of the reporting period, SWS started sending letters to people benefiting from those placements, setting a 3-month limit after the expiration of which, they should leave. In some cases extensions where given and persons were allowed to remain for an additional 3 months but after that people were obliged to secure accommodation.
The difficulties in securing shelter in the community led to an increase in the use of run-down or derelict buildings. Those are apartment buildings or former hotel apartments in very bad conditions, often without running water, with severe structural, electrical and sewage issues etc. Due to their decaying conditions, the owners are generally unable to rent them to nationals, and instead rent them to asylum seekers. Reports of owners receiving rent allowance from the Social Welfare Services were reported in 2021. Asylum seekers residing in such buildings include vulnerable persons such as single mothers with young children, pregnant women, violence/torture victims, disabled persons etc. The local authorities in some cases have taken legal action against the owners but due to lack of housing alternatives moving persons from such buildings has proven extremely difficult.
Limnes Accommodation Centre
In late 2021, the newly established Limnes Accommodation Centre began operations. Nonetheless, it is still not clear what is the purpose of the Centre is and who it will accommodate. The Centre has open and closed sections and a safe zone.
Upon operation and continuing in 2022, rejected asylum seekers – the majority nationals from Pakistan and Bangladesh – are transferred to the Centre from Pournara, where they have all received a negative first-instance decision on their asylum claims. They are given the choice to either reside in the open sections of the Centre or to leave the Centre and live in the community. Those who choose to live in the community are obliged to waive their right to material reception conditions. Those who select to reside at the Centre are accommodated in the open sections of the Centre and are allowed to move enter and exit between 9am and 9pm. Furthermore, they are provided with a stipulated cash allowance of €100, which is allocated at the end of each month. The majority of persons transferred to Limnes opt to leave the Centre and reside in the community, without access to material reception conditions, mainly to access employment opportunities in the community.
The Centre appears to also be used on ad-hoc basis to address overcrowding at Pournara. For example, on 21 December 2021, 585 asylum seekers were transferred from Pournara to Limnes, having been close contacts to COVID-19 cases. Additional asylum seekers who were positive to COVID-19 were also transferred to Limnes the following days/weeks. These persons are not considered to be residents of the Centre and, although they are asylum seekers, they do not have freedom of movement and are accommodated in the closed sections of the Centre.
All the asylum seekers who were transferred to Limnes for Covid-related reasons have either been released in the community or transferred back to Pournara to conclude their medical tests. The average duration of stay in the closed sections of the Centre was 40 days.
Regarding the setup, the Centre it consists of three distinct sections:
- the Safe Zone, which consists of three prefabricated houses;
- Sections C and D of the Centre which consist of a total of 69 RHUs; and
- Sections A and B of the Centre which consist of a total of 60 RHUs.
There is no physical separation between sections C and D, or sections A and B. As such, they are considered to form two distinct sections: (i) sections A&B; and (ii) sections C&D.
Given its recent establishment, no reports on the conditions in the Centre were available at time of publication. However, there are indications that the general conditions are extremely poor, especially if regarding the quality of the housing units that are purposed for very temporary stay and the fact that only communal areas (e.g. the food distribution area) dispose of electricity and heating provisions.
At the time of publication, there are a total of 87 persons at the Limnes Accommodation Centre, of which all have received a first instance rejection to their asylum application.
 Information provided by Asylum Service.
 Information provided by the Cyprus Refugee Council
 Politis, ‘New protest in Pournara – 1600 refugees stacked in a centre of 700 people’, 1 February 2021, available in Greek at http://bit.ly/3tDS6yr. See also: DW, ‘Cyprus: Refugee protests over incarceration conditions’, available in Greek at http://bit.ly/3c6pwQC; Cyprus Mail, ‘Migrants at Pournara stage Protest’, 27 May 2020, available at https://bit.ly/3lETkXB; Dialogos, ‘Protestes with tensions at Pournara Reception Centre’, 11 June 2020, available in Greek at http://bit.ly/3vWF5lR; U.S Department of State, 2020 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices: Cyprus, available at: https://bit.ly/3rF00X2.
 Phileleftheros,‘MPs in Pournara: “12 children stacked in containers”’ available at: https://bit.ly/3iKoFY6; Phileleftheros, ‘These are not images that honor us in “Pournara”, available at: https://bit.ly/3LiqAiU; Cyprus Mail, ‘Pournara Camp a Ticking Bomb’ available at: https://bit.ly/3LgqOa8.
 Phileleftheros, ‘Pournara, a boiling cauldron – Clashes and stabbings’, available at: https://bit.ly/3JP1aci; Cyprus Mails, ‘Three injured during fight at Pournara’ available at: https://bit.ly/3uyEYNk.