Special reception needs of vulnerable groups

Cyprus

Country Report: Special reception needs of vulnerable groups Last updated: 08/04/22

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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 were 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. Currently, new referrals to the Centre are screened against vulnerabilities, and relevant reports are shared with the Asylum Service and Social Welfare Services.

In 2021, the vulnerability assessment team comprised of eight members from EASO, Asylum service, UNHCR, CyRC with a coordinator allocated by EASO. Despite the fact the initial improvement in the system for the identification of vulnerable persons and their referral to the authorities,  the increase in the numbers of applicants and the high turnover among vulnerability officers, particularly during the second half of the year, had a negative impact on the quality of the assessments carried out. Newly recruited/ assigned staff are not always adequately trained or offered guidance, and as a result, vulnerability assessments are often carried out in a non-uniformed manner. There is no system in place for quality control of the vulnerability assessments to ensure the efficacy of the findings and referrals.  Furthermore, it has been observed that the findings of the vulnerability assessment primarily focus on special reception needs, whereas special procedural needs are not sufficiently explored and recorded, for instance, in the cases of LGBTI where the person may only have special procedural needs.

The vulnerability assessment is carried out approximately 2 months after a person has arrived at the Center. As there is no procedure for early screening of vulnerable individuals in place time-sensitive special needs may not be adequately met. For instance, in the case of SGBV survivor who wishes to terminate their pregnancy resulting from recent incident of rape. Specific vulnerabilities may be identified, especially visible signs such as heavily pregnant women or persons with physical disabilities, by Pournara’s operations personnel as well as EASO info providers or registration officers. In such cases, the vulnerability assessment coordinator is informed who then assigns these cases to the team on a priority basis.

The lack of comprehensive Standard Operating Procedures and referral pathways continues to be a serious challenge and results in persons being identified as vulnerable but not necessarily receiving the required support, be it special reception conditions and/or procedural guarantees. The main – and possibly only – support received by vulnerable individuals is temporary accommodation and emergency allowance by the Social Welfare Services upon exiting Pournara. In many cases, vulnerable individuals are released from Pournara prior to being assisted by an officer of the Social Welfare Services stationed at the centre, and as a result, their access to special reception conditions are not always guaranteed. In terms of access to mental health services, particularly psychological assistance, no system to refer cases to the state psychologists has been established. As a result, the Cyprus Refugee Council has received a large number of referrals for psychological assistance throughout 2021 which exceeded the organisation’s existing capacity for such support. In cases of severe mental health difficulties or in need to emergency attention, e.g. risks/ attempts of suicide, the person is referred to a psychiatrist of the Emergency department of the General Hospital.

Concerning the cases of potential victims of trafficking, due to lack of training and expertise among staff, during the first half of 2021, only a handful number of cases were identified and referred. An increase in referrals to National Trafficking Mechanism was observed following a training on human trafficking offered by EASO to the vulnerability assessment team. The referred potential victims are interviewed by an officer of the Social Welfare Services, are informed about their rights and offered assistance – usually similar to other groups of vulnerable individuals (accommodation and emergency allowance). The referral forms are then forwarded to the Anti-trafficking Unit of the Police for the examination of trafficking claims.

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 many persons remaining there on average 45-60 days, but in many cases reaching 3-4 months. 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 social welfare service arranges temporary accommodation and persons are transferred there. This opportunity, however, is only offered to the 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, 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 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.[3] 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 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 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. Despite efforts to identify a suitable building, the shelter remained inoperable throughout 2021.

The actual number of unaccompanied children hosted in each shelter as of the end of 2020 is shown in the table below. Information was not provided for 2021.

Unaccompanied children in shelters in 22020
Shelter City Number of residents Capacity
Male Youth Home (HfC) Nicosia 35 42
Male Youth Home (HfC) Larnaca  

Not operating

25
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 along with the increase in numbers of UASC is causing 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.

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 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 three (3) programmes offering semi-independent living for unaccompanied children, for the ages 16 -18 aiming at facilitating the transition into adulthood. One is run by the Social Welfare Services itself, a second by IOM, and a third by NGO “Hope for Children” CRC Policy Centre. Regardless of the programme to which the child is allocated, guardianship remains with the Social Welfare Services.

Under the programme run by the Social Welfare Services an adult, usually familiar to the child, is appointed as a focal point for the child and undertakes their day-to-day care. Whereas in the programmes run by IOM and HfC 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.[4] 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 the 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. This programme consists of apartments in the urban areas of Nicosia and Larnaca. Capacity under this programme is limited with 4 children in Larnaca and 8 children in Nicosia. Children referred to this programme are former residents of the UASC shelters run by HfC in Nicosia and Larnaca, who are 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, the guardianship remains with the Social Welfare Services, and HFC and the Social Welfare Services undertake the monitoring and support of the family.[5]

Various issues were registered regarding cases of unaccompanied children that are 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.[6]

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 and 2021, 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, the children were housed in the designated safe zone. However, safety and security concerns remain as the designated safe 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 Social Welfare Services in coming into contact with the Children. Incidents of sexual abuse perpetrated by other residents were also reported by the children.[7]

 

 

 

[1]  Article 9KΓ Refugee Law.

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

[3]  Article 9IΔ(7) Refugee Law.

[4]  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.

[5]   Consultation with HfC.

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

[7]  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.

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