First Reception Centre, Pournara
The Emergency Reception Centre (Pournara) has been converted into a First Reception 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.
Currently, approximately 1,600 persons are accommodated. The nominal capacity of the Centre is 1,000 persons, which includes areas without access to an electricity supply, therefore the facility is considered as heavily overcrowded. Residents within the confined areas 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. Refugee housing units are, however, still used in parallel with tents, due to the authorities’ incapacity to upgrade housing infrastructure of the Centre. In addition to the designated areas, approximately 200 persons are accommodated in tents out in the open, next to the Centre, in extremely bad conditions.
There are 11 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.
Regarding referrals to the Centre throughout 2019, 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 movement of asylum seekers were initially restricted within the premises of the Centre for 72 hours, until the results of the tests were concluded, although in practice, their stay would be prolonged according to the time required for completing all tests.
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 and before completion of construction, persons were not allowed to leave the First Reception Centre. This policy continued throughout 2020 and 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 have relatives or friends that can provide accommodation. At other times and 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. 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 has been justified by the authorities as part of the measures to address the increase in migrant flows as well as spread of Covid-19, however it has led to severe overcrowding without the infrastructure in place to host such numbers. In many cases, the duration of stay reaches 5 months and considering that persons have complete restriction of movement outside of the Centre, it has 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 of African countries being disproportionally confined in the Centre as they cannot obtain such a document.
At the time of publication, the number of persons allowed to leave the Centre increased to around 50 persons a day. Furthermore, persons in the Centre who have completed registration are allowed two exits per day, in accordance with the measures to address Covid-19 applicable for the general public, and exit cards have been issued for this purpose.
In respect of Covid-19 measures, it was announced that residents of Pournara and Kofinou Centres will participate in 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), 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 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. Furthermore, during 2020, admissions of single men from Syria did take place.
Residing in the Community
With the total number of asylum seekers reaching 19,000 and capacity of Reception Centres limited to around 2,000, most asylum seekers reside in the community in private houses/flats, which they are expected 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 the 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 can take 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. Yet, there are no reports of persons actually being evicted.
 Information provided by Asylum Service.
 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.