Special reception needs of vulnerable groups


Country Report: Special reception needs of vulnerable groups Last updated: 11/04/23


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 Screening of vulnerability).

Due to overcrowding at the Pournara centre, the conditions are unsuitable to address the needs of vulnerable individuals. Many single women and families are still scattered over the centre, including the quarantine sections, with persons remaining there on average 40-60 days, but there are cases where the period reaches three to four months. 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.[3]

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.

Concerning Kofinou Centre, families, single women, and traumatised people are placed there under the same conditions applicable to all other residents. From 2018 onwards, per policy no new single men 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 SWS and reception centres, families are treated as an entity.

To prevent gender-based violence in Kofinou, 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.

Unaccompanied asylum seeking children

There are four shelters hosting 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 two 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. 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 consequently limited available spaces in shelters. Despite efforts to identify a suitable building, the shelter remained inoperable throughout 2021 and 2022.

ASC are placed in the shelters according to available space following referrals by the SWS. During the reporting period, the lack of space within the few shelters that exist along with the increase in numbers of UASC has caused great delays in the placement of the UASC in one of the shelters. As a result, children spend excessive periods of time (3 or more months in some cases) in Pournara, which is not designed as a child-appropriate space. In the accommodation shelters in the community, children are placed in premises where adult persons (usually elderly people and others) are also hosted in separate wings.

Since 2020, unaccompanied children were referred to the Pournara First Reception Centre. The length of stay in many instances was reported to exceed 3 months. During their stay in Pournara, and following the creation of a safe zone, children were housed in the designated safe zone. However, safety and security concerns remain as the zone is accessible to adult and there is little to no control on entry and exit in the area. There were significant delays from the SWS in coming into contact with the children. Incidents of sexual abuse perpetrated by other residents were also reported by the children.[5]

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.

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.

Children under the age of 12 are placed in one of the state-run shelter for children under the care of the Social Welfare Services. A small number of children may be placed at the shelter for victims of trafficking operated by an NGO called CYPRUS STOP TRAFFICKING, while some underage girls are living with their husbands in private accommodation.

IOM launched its programme in April 2020 and offers legal advice, psychological support, social counselling, access to education and vocational training, and rehabilitation services.[6] Referrals to the programme are made by the SWS while the UASC are in Pournara First Reception Centre. The programme comprises of studio apartments located in 3 different rural areas of Limassol District, the overall capacity being 50 UASC. Two of the locations host boys whereas the third hosts girls. There are two social workers 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, during 2021 it expanded also to Larnaca. The programme consists of apartments in the urban areas of Nicosia and Larnaca. Capacity is limited with 10 children in Larnaca and 14 children in Nicosia. 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.

HfC also runs a foster care programme that is addressed to all children 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.[7]

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, a number of UASC were transferred to hotels in Lanaraca, Paphos and Ammochostos district.

Various issues were registered 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.[8]

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.

Below a breakdown of shelters and programmes where UASC reside, at the time of writing the report.

District Programme Capacity UASC number
Nicosia   Shelter “Hope For Children” CRC Policy Center 42 43
  Children Shelter   6
  Shelter for adolescent girls   1
  Foster families   30
  Semi-independent living with relatives         68
   Semi-independent living “Hope For Children” CRC Policy Center 10 10
  Semi-independent living  St Joseph Social Centre 6 6
   Semi-independent living CODECA 76 76
  Semi-independent living IOM 43 43
  First reception and registration center (Pournara)   290
  Syrian girls living with husbands  (16+ y/o)    
  Shelter CYPRUS STOP TRAFFICKING (UASC with babies)   5
Limassol Shelter for females run by SWS 14 11
  Foster families   40
  Semi-independent living with relatives   77
  Semi-independent living IOM 44 44
  Syrian girls living with their husband (16+ y/o.)   3
Laranca   Shelter for females run by SWS 22 22
  Shelter for males “Hope For Children” CRC Policy Center  20 18
  Foster families   3
  Semi-independent living   7

Semi-independent living  “Hope For Children” CRC Policy Center

14 12
  Hotel Henipa Crowns Resort 81 78
  Larnaca childrens shelter   2
Paphos Foster families   24
  Semi-independent living   32
  Syrian girls living with their husbands   1

Hotel  New York Plaza Apts

165 157
Ammochostos Foster families   4
  Semi-independent living with relatives   14
  Cleonapa Hotel Apartments 35 35
Total     1,162

[1] Article 9KΓ Refugee Law.

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

[3] United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). (2021). Sexual and Gender-based Violence among Asylum-Seekers in Cyprus, available at: https://bit.ly/3JN8LdQ.

[4] Article 9IΔ(7) Refugee Law.

[5] Phileleftheros, ‘Pournara: When I was leaving they begged me to stay’ «Πουρνάρα: Ότανέφευγαπαρακαλούσανναμείνω» available in Greek at  http://bit.ly/3r6ZiBK, also see Phileleftheros ‘Children harassed in Pournara Centre’   «ΠαρενόχλησανπαιδιάστοκέντροΠουρνάρα» available in Greek at http://bit.ly/3s5To50.

[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] Ombudsman Report on the procedures for the transition of UASC at age of ma ΈκθεσητηςΕπιτρόπου, αναφορικάμετιςδιαδικασίεςμετάβασηςστηνενηλικίωσητωνασυνόδευτωνανηλίκωναιτητώνασύλου, available at: https://bit.ly/2UthBEa.

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