Special reception needs of vulnerable groups


Country Report: Special reception needs of vulnerable groups Last updated: 28/04/21


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The Refugee Law extends the categories of persons considered as vulnerable to include those mentioned in Article 21 of the recast Reception Conditions Directive:[1]

“[M]inors, unaccompanied minors, disabled people, elderly people, pregnant women, single parents with minor children, victims of human trafficking, persons with serious illnesses, persons with mental disorders and persons who have been subjected to torture, rape or other serious forms of psychological, physical or sexual violence, such as victims of female genital mutilation.”

The law also introduces an identification mechanism which provides that an individual assessment shall be carried out to determine whether a specific person has special reception needs and/or requires special procedural guarantees, and the nature of those needs.[2] These individualised assessments should be performed within a reasonable time during the early stages of applying for asylum, and the requirement to address special reception needs and/or special procedural guarantees applies at any time such needs are identified or ascertained.

In 2019, the Asylum Service carried out screenings of vulnerabilities at the First Reception Centre, Pournara. However, these were not full assessments and the results indicated that cases were going on unidentified. From March 2019 until present, the Cyprus Refugee Council also carried out vulnerability assessments at the Centre using relevant UNHCR tools and through this process identified a significant number of vulnerable persons that were referred to the responsible authorities. Such referrals led to cases of vulnerable persons being allocated to specialised examiners at the Asylum Service, as well as priority given to such cases. However, this has not led to an assessment and provision of any special receptions needs.

From mid-2019 onwards, efforts have been made by the Asylum Service and EASO, in collaboration with UNHCR and the Cyprus Refugee Council, to set up a comprehensive vulnerability assessment procedure at the First Reception Centre including the development of a common tool to be used for screening and assessing vulnerable persons and a standard operating procedure.

During 2020, efforts were made to set up a comprehensive vulnerability assessment procedure in Pournara Centre by the Asylum Service, EASO, UNHCR, and CyRC. New referrals to the Centre are screened against vulnerabilities, and relevant reports are shared with the Asylum Service and Social Welfare Services. Vulnerability assessments are currently conducted in the Centre by 6 professionals, deployed by UNHCR (1), CYRC (1), and Talos (3) (sub-contractor of Asylum Service). Moreover, EASO deployed a total of 3 vulnerability experts and 1 vulnerability assistant in Cyprus in 2020. The latter was still present as of 14 December 2020, as well as one vulnerability expert.[3]

Due to the facility being heavily overcrowded and people not allowed to exit, the conditions are unsuitable to address the needs of vulnerable individuals. Many single women and families are still scattered all over the centre, including the quarantine sections, with many persons remaining there for more than 4 months.  Identification of vulnerable cases is a time-consuming process, and there are still no official guidelines for effectively attending the needs of the identified individuals both inside and outside the Centre. From time to time, usually following interventions of vulnerability assessment staff, identified persons, such as pregnant women, traumatized individuals, and families were allowed to exit after providing an address. Still, handling of those cases in the community is problematic and varies greatly, since no defined procedure to guaranty effective support, is followed. Currently, around 50 persons are allowed to exit per day from Pournara Camp.

Concerning Kofinou Centre, families, single women, and traumatised people are placed there under the same conditions applicable to all other residents. From 2018 onwards, no new single males are admitted. Single men who were already residing in the Centre and single women are placed in different rooms in distinct sections, while families do not share their living space with others. Regarding family unity, efforts are made to keep families together. When it comes to welfare services and reception centres, families are treated as an entity.

In relation to preventing gender-based violence in Kofinou Reception Centre, the Refugee Law provides that the competent authorities shall take into consideration gender and age-specific concerns and the situation of vulnerable persons and that appropriate measures shall be taken in order to prevent assault and gender-based violence, including sexual assault and harassment.[4] Up until today, there are no specific guidelines or procedures in effect to guarantee the efficient implementation of those provisions and further monitoring is required.

For the purpose of receiving proper education, the needs of children with disabilities are identified and assessed by the Ministry of Education in light of their obligation towards children with special needs.

In respect to UASC, there are five shelters hosting children aged between 14 and 18; one in Nicosia, three in Larnaca and one in Limassol. Children below the age of 14 are hosted in the youth homes operated by the Welfare Services for all children under their guardianship (nationals, EU nationals, third country nationals (TCNs) and some of them are subsequently placed in foster families following relevant procedures.

The operation of all shelters is monitored by the Social Welfare Services and three of them are managed directly by the NGO “Hope for Children” CRC Policy Centre (HfC) following the relevant agreement between the State and the organisation. The latter has been running the Nicosia male Youth Home since 2014 and in 2019 took over the management of two more shelters in Larnaca. It should be noted that in 2020 due to structural concerns surrounding the building of one of the male youth centres operated by HfC, the children residing there were transferred to the other male shelter operated by HfC, which has consequently limited available spaces in shelters. Efforts are underway to identify a building to house the shelter.

The actual number of unaccompanied children hosted in each shelter as of the end of 2020 is shown in the table below:

Unaccompanied children in shelters in 2020
Shelter City Number of residents Capacity
Male Youth Home (HfC) Nicosia 35 42
Male Youth Home (HfC) Larnaca  25

Not operating

Male Youth Home (HfC) Larnaca 20
Female Larnaca 19 20
Female Limassol 11 20

All UASC are placed in the shelters according to their available space following referrals by the Welfare Services. During the reporting period, it has been noted that the lack of space within the few shelters that exist is causing great delays in the placement of the UASC in one of the shelters. As a result, the children spend excessive periods of time (up to 3 months in some cases) in Pournara, the First Reception Centre which is not designated as a child-appropriate space, and where an adult population is present. The same applies for two more accommodation shelters in the community where children are placed in premises where adult persons (usually elderly people and others) are also hosted.

Conditions in shelters vary, with those being directly under the management of Social Welfare Services facing more challenges, especially with staff capacity, infrastructure conditions, social and psychological support, and integration activities. Educational arrangements both within mainstream education and non-typical education contexts are in place across all shelters, however a considerable number of children, especially girls, do not regularly attend school.

In addition to the shelters, the Social Welfare Services, IOM, and HfC run a semi-independent living programme for unaccompanied children. The Social Welfare Services scheme for semi-independent living is run solely by the SWS. In such cases, an adult, usually familiar to the child, is appointed as a focal point for the child and undertakes their day-to-day care. In all three cases, the guardianship of the child remains with the Social Welfare Services but the day-to-day care of the child is undertaken by the organization that implements the programme or the adult that is considered the focal point of the child.

The IOM and HfC programmes are addressed to children over 16 aiming at facilitating the transition into adulthood. Both programmes have the option for the children to benefit from it until the age of 21. The IOM programme was launched on 10 April 2020. A total of 16 children, all males, have benefited for the period of April 2020 to January 2021.[5] The housing units that host the children are located in a rural area of the Limassol District and the children are offered legal advice, psychological support, social counselling, access to education and vocational training, and rehabilitation services.[6] Similar services are offered to the children that are placed in the semi-independent programme of HfC. The HfC housing units are in an urban area in the Nicosia district. For 2020, 18 children, all male, have benefited from the programme. The programme has been running since 2017.[7]

 HfC also runs a foster care programme that is addressed to all children including unaccompanied children. For foster children, the guardianship remains with the Social Welfare Services, and HFC and the Social Welfare Services undertake the monitoring and support of the family. For the year 2020, a total of 81 unaccompanied children benefited from the programme, of whom 20 were female and 61 male.[8]

The transition to adulthood is also reported to be problematic. The Commissioner for the Rights of the Child published a report expressing concern over the lack of measures to support unaccompanied migrant children who turn 18 to access suitable accommodation, education, training, employment, information and social, psychological and mental health support.[9]

When children reach the age of maturity at 18 years old, they are requested to leave the shelters. In rare cases, the stay can be prolonged due to humanitarian or other extraordinary reasons (such as serious health concerns, if leaving the shelter will interfere with education, and other serious vulnerability). The shelter staff undertake the preparation of children for the transition into adulthood in terms of securing accommodation, finding employment, or applying for material reception conditions. In many cases where accommodation had not been secured, the Social Welfare Services financed the stay of the young adults in temporary hotels or hostels. HfC has an internal policy to follow up on the young adults for a period of 6 months in order to ensure smooth transition and wellbeing of the former UASC.

In 2020, unaccompanied children were referred to the Pournara First Reception Centre. The length of stay in many instances was reported to exceed 2 months, while the children were placed in areas with adults to whom they were not related. There were significant delays from the Social Welfare Services in coming into contact with the Children. Incidents of sexual abuse were reported by the children.[10]

At the end of 2020, a safe zone area was set up in Pournara Centre. The safe zones were designed to host families with children and unaccompanied children, in different areas.[11] The placement of an UASC in one of the shelters will only take place after the conclusion of the age assessment procedures. However, prior to being transferred to the safe zone area, the children were placed in the quarantine areas along with adults, not related to them.[12] Furthermore, in November 2020, by way of a Ministerial Decision, the Pournara Reception Centre was turned into a closed centre which hindered the transfer of children to shelters due to requirements to complete quarantine and registration. To add to this, the shelters had positive Covid-19 cases among the children and were in effect not in a position to receive new arrivals, following instructions from the medical team overseeing the situation.



[1]  Article 9KΓ Refugee Law.

[2] Articles 9KΔ(a) and 10A Refugee Law.

[3]  Information provided by EASO, 26 February 2021.

[4]  Article 9IΔ(7) Refugee Law.

[5]Information provided by IOM Officer at EMN Cyprus, EMN Greece, EMN Italy, and EMN Luxembourg, “Young migrants in transition to adulthood” on 28 January 2021.

[6] IOM press release, ‘IOM Supports the Transition to Adulthood of Unaccompanied Migrant Children in Cyprus’, 14 April 2020, available in English at https://bit.ly/3r3tOw4.

[7] Consultation with HfC.

[8]  Consulation with HfC.

[9] Ombudsman Report on the procedures for the transition of UASC at age of ma Έκθεση της Επιτρόπου, αναφορικά με τις διαδικασίες μετάβασης στην ενηλικίωση των ασυνόδευτων ανηλίκων αιτητών ασύλου, available at: https://bit.ly/2UthBEa.

[10]  Phileleftheros, ‘Pournara: When I was leaving they begged me to stay’ «Πουρνάρα: Όταν έφευγα  παρακαλούσαν να μείνω» available in Greek at  http://bit.ly/3r6ZiBK, also see Phileleftheros ‘Children harassed in Pournara Centre’   «Παρενόχλησαν παιδιά στο κέντρο Πουρνάρα» available in Greek at http://bit.ly/3s5To50.

[11] Ombudsman Report on the conditions in Pournara Reception Centre, Eθνικός μηχανισμός προληψης των βασανιστηριων και αλλων μορφων σκληρης απανθρωπης και εξευτελιστικης μεταχειρισης ή τιμωριας – Εθνικη ανεξαρτητη αρχη ανθρωπινων δικαιωματων, Έκθεση αναφορικά µε την επίσκεψη στο Κέντρο Προσωρινής Υποδοχής και Φιλοξενίας Μεταναστών «Πουρνάρα» στην Κοκκινοτριµιθιά, ηµεροµηνίας 4 Δεκεµβρίου 2020, page 6, available in Greek at https://bit.ly/3c8OrTB.

[12]  Information provided by resident to Cyprus Refugee Council.

Table of contents

  • Statistics
  • Overview of the legal framework
  • Overview of the main changes since the previous report update
  • Asylum Procedure
  • Reception Conditions
  • Detention of Asylum Seekers
  • Content of International Protection
  • ANNEX I – Transposition of the CEAS in national legislation