The updated AIDA Country Report on Cyprus tracks developments in the areas of asylum procedures, reception conditions, detention of asylum seekers and content of international protection, against the backdrop of a significant increase in the number of people seeking asylum in the country.

The number of asylum applications has significantly increased in recent years with 2,871 in 2016, 4,459 in 2017, and 7,761 in 2018, bringing Cyprus first in the per capita number of applications among the 28 EU Member States. The upward trend has continued in early 2019 with 1,090 persons applying in January 2019 compared to 440 in January 2018.

Asylum procedure: The law on the establishment and operation of the International Protection Administrative Court (IPAC) was enacted in 2018. The new Court is expected to start operating in May 2019 and will take over from the Administrative Court. It has yet to be clarified if the existing backlog of the Administrative Court, which is reported at the end of 2018 to be 555 cases, will be transferred on to the new Court; as had happened in 2016 when the backlog of asylum cases was transferred from the Supreme Court to the Administrative Court, which hampered the speedy examination of asylum cases. If the backlog is indeed transferred it is expected to have similar results.

The Refugee Reviewing Authority remains in operation and continues to receive new cases, with a backlog of 1,490 cases, despite a significantly low number of staff. There is no indication as to when it will cease to receive new cases.

Reception conditions: In 2018, securing private accommodation became even more difficult for asylum seekers the majority of which live in the community. The combination of highly restrictive policy relating to the level of allowance, the sharp increase in rent prices as well as the reluctance on behalf of homeowners to rent properties to refugees has resulted in an alarming homelessness problem as well as asylum seekers living in appalling conditions.

Substantial efforts have been made to improve the conditions in Kofinou, Steps taken so far include mainly infrastructural improvements and repairs, as well as an increase of the number of allocated administrative and support staff, including the appointment by the Ministry of Interior of  a director and an assistant director onsite for the first time. Furthermore, following a long period of temporary arrangements, a private company was selected to provide management and other services in the Centre. Further monitoring is required with regard to coordination between governmental and civil society actors and the effectiveness of social, psychological and medical services.

Toward the end of 2018 access to the labour market for asylum seekers was reduced from 6 months to 1 month. The relevant Ministries, Interior and Labour, Welfare and Social Insurance had also publicly announced that the sectors would also be increase. However, in early 2019 this had yet to materialise. Furthermore, no provisions were made for vulnerable asylum seekers or asylum seekers who are not able to work e.g. due to lack of language skills. As a result, the initially positive development of providing early access to the labour market did not lead to a substantial increase of asylum seekers accessing employment but rather an increase in administrative obstacles to access material assistance as all asylum seekers are now obliged to register at the Labour Office and actively seek employment upon one month, at which time registration of the asylum application is in most cases incomplete.

Detention of asylum seekers: In 2018 there was an increase in the number of asylum seekers detained under the Refugee Law. As detention under the Refugee Law is indefinite, coupled with the suspension of the  fast-track examination of asylum seekers in detention in late 2017, there was a rise in the number of asylum seekers in detention throughout the year, as well as a rise in the duration of detention. By April 2018 the number of detainees in Menogia had reached maximum capacity which eventually led to the release of detainees, however the duration and the criteria upon which asylums seekers are released are still not clear.

*This information was first published by AIDA managed by ECRE

This article appeared in the ECRE Weekly Bulletin . You can subscribe to the Weekly Bulletin here.