Special reception needs of vulnerable groups


Country Report: Special reception needs of vulnerable groups Last updated: 09/05/24


Cyprus Refugee Council Visit Website

The Refugee Law defines vulnerable persons in the same way as 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. However, there are several issues with this screening (for a comprehensive overview, see section on Identification).

In practice, even when vulnerable cases are identified, no official guidelines for effectively attending the needs of the identified individuals both while in the Centre and when exiting into the community are available. When vulnerable cases are identified, the SWS arranges temporary accommodation and persons are transferred there. This opportunity, however, is only offered to specific vulnerabilities such as single mothers with young children, pregnant women, persons with serious mental and physical disabilities and only if identified by the vulnerability assessment team. Overall, addressing the needs of vulnerable cases in the community remains extremely problematic and varies greatly, since no defined procedure to guaranty effective support is followed.[3]

In 2021, in collaboration with the Mediterranean Institute of Gender Studies (MIGS), UNHCR Cyprus mapped the experiences and impact of sexual and gender-based violence among female and male asylum seekers in the Pournara First Reception Centre and highlighted that 49% of all women assessed were identified as victims of sexual or gender-based violence. The organisations added that the high share can be further contextualised with the higher rate of male arrivals and the higher number of men assessed in the mapping. The study observed a general lack of data on sexual or gender-based violence among asylum-seeking and refugee women and put forward specific recommendations to improve data collection, reception conditions, specialised support services, access to information, housing and accommodation, as well as employment and training.[4] The findings of the Study remained relevant in 2023 as did the vast majority of the recommendations.

Unaccompanied asylum seeking children

From 2020 onwards, unaccompanied children are referred to the Pournara First Reception Centre upon arrival. The length of stay often exceeds 3 months and in 2023 specifically it was on average 80 days. The delays in exiting the Centre have mainly been due to lack of capacity and the UASC shelters. During their stay in Pournara, children are housed in the designated safe zone. In previous years incidents of sexual abuse perpetrated by other residents were reported by the children.[5] In 2023 due to the improvements in the setup of the safe zone, the conditions and protection of UASC while in Pournara has improved.

Children under the age of 12 are placed in one of the State-run shelters for non-refugee children under the care of the Social Welfare Services.

There are four shelters hosting refugee children aged between 14 and 18; one in Nicosia, two in Larnaca and one in Limassol. Children below the age of 14 are hosted in the youth homes operated by the SWS 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 SWS 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. HfC  has been running the Nicosia male Youth Home since 2014 and in 2019 took over the management of two more shelters in Larnaca.

Conditions in shelters vary, with those being directly under the management of SWS 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 do not regularly attend school. Non-typical educational activities include language courses, music classes, art and drama therapy, physical education, sewing and other.[6]

In 2022, due to the increase in numbers of UASC and limited capacity in existing shelters and other accommodation options and the substandard conditions in Pournara, the Social Welfare Services contracted hotels as a temporary measure to house UASC. The conditions in the hotels are not considered up to standard. In 2023 and early 2024, 3 hotels continued to be used in Lanaraca, Paphos and Ammochostos district.

In addition to the shelters, there are five programmes offering semi-independent living for unaccompanied children ages 16-18, aiming at facilitating the transition into adulthood. One is run by the SWS itself, a second by IOM, a third by NGO “Hope for Children” CRC Policy Centre, the fourth offered by St Joseph’s Social Center and the fifth offered by CODECA. Regardless of the programme to which the child is allocated, guardianship remains with the SWS. Under the programme run by the SWS, an adult, usually familiar to the child, is appointed as a focal point for the child and undertakes their day-to-day care. In the programmes run by IOM, HfC and CODECA the day-to-day care is overseen by the organisation’s staff.

IOM launched its programme in April 2020 and offers legal advice, psychological support, social counselling, access to education and vocational training, and rehabilitation services.[7] Referrals to the programme are made by the SWS while the UASC are in Pournara First Reception Centre. The programme is comprised of studio apartments located in various areas.  Girls and boys are hosted separately. Social workers are assigned by IOM to assess and address the needs of the UASC. Additionally, there are support staff, whose duty station is close to the housing unit and assist with day to day needs of the UASC. Psychological support is offered by HfC staff, whereas IOM offers legal advice and social counselling.

The HfC semi-independent programme has been running since 2017. Though initially only implemented in Nicosia, it has since expanded to Larnaca. The programme consists of apartments in the urban areas of Nicosia and Larnaca. Capacity is limited with approximately 30 children. Children referred to this programme are former residents of the UASC shelters run by HfC in Nicosia and Larnaca, assessed by the staff as able to live under a more independent framework or, more often, UASC who are approaching the age of majority and should be eased into the life of a young adult. The UASC receive legal advice, psychological support, social counselling, access to education and vocational training, and rehabilitation services by HfC staff.[8]

HfC also runs a foster care programme that is addressed to all children regardless of nationality and status, including unaccompanied children under the age of 16. For foster children, guardianship remains with the SWS, and HFC and the SWS undertake the monitoring and support of the family.[9]

Various issues were reported regarding unaccompanied children transitioning to adulthood. In December 2018, 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.[10] The majority of issues reported remain unresolved throughout 2023.

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 SWS 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.[11]

In 2023 the following shelters and programmes were used to accommodate UASC:[12]

Capacity and Occupancy 31/12/2023
Program Occupancy % Occupancy
5 Residential care (2 governmental and 3 non-governamental) 114 9
34 units of Semi-independent Living (IOM Cyprus and NGOs) 256 20
Semi-independent Living (relatives) 328 25
3 Hotels 270 21
Foster Care 141 11
Other 11 1
SUBTOTAL 1,120  
Pournara Centre 178 14
TOTAL 1,298




[1] Article 9KΓ Refugee Law.

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

[3] Information provided by Cyprus Refugee Council

[4] UNHCR Cyprus and MISGS, Sexual and Gender-based Violence among Asylum-Seekers in Cyprus, 2 December 2021, available at: https://bit.ly/3JN8LdQ.

[5] Phileleftheros, Pournara: When I was leaving they begged me to stay / «Πουρνάρα: Όταν έφευγα παρακαλούσαν να μείνω», 23 June 2020, available in Greek at: https://tinyurl.com/37ptnthc; See also Phileleftheros, Children harassed in Pournara Centre / «Παρενόχλησαν παιδιά στο κέντρο Πουρνάρα», 22 June 2020, available in Greek at: https://tinyurl.com/4u2rae2j.

[6] Information provided by Cyprus Refugee Council.

[7] 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.

[8] Information provided by Hope for Children.

[9] Information provided by Hope for Children.

[10] Commissioner for the Rights of the Child, Report on the procedures for the transition to adulthood of UASC / Έκθεση της Επιτρόπου, αναφορικά με τις διαδικασίες μετάβασης στην ενηλικίωση των ασυνόδευτων ανηλίκων αιτητών ασύλου, 19 December 2018, available in Greek at: https://bit.ly/2UthBEa.

[11] Information provided by Hope for Children and Cyprus Refugee Council.

[12] Information provided by Social Welfare Services.

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