21 March 2014

Evidence gathered by Amnesty International researchers during a recent visit to Cyprus indicates that hundreds of migrants and asylum seekers in the country are detained in prison-like conditions for extended periods of time that can go up to 18 months, while awaiting deportation. Amnesty International states that Cyprus is not using the detention of migrants as a measure of last resort but rather as standard practice. Asylum seekers and migrants interviewed by the Amnesty demonstrate that there was a lack of information concerning the reasons for their detention and no regular judicial review of their detention.

Amnesty International states that the use of detention for such lengthy periods as standard practice is in breach of international law and that Cyprus is misusing EU law, which permits migrants awaiting deportation to be detained for up to 18 months only in exceptional cases.

“Detention is automatically imposed with no procedures in place to examine its legitimacy, necessity, alternatives or if it really constitutes the last resort as required by EU Law,” Corina Drousiotou from the Future Worlds Center told the ECRE Weekly Bulletin.

Despite the fact that Cyprus’ official policy is to not to return Syrians, Amnesty found nine Syrian nationals among the detainees at Menogia detention centre, the main immigration detention facility in Cyprus. “We can only conclude that the detention of Syrian nationals is intended to send a message to other Syrians that they are not welcome in Cyprus,” argues Sherif Elsayed-Ali Head of Refugee and Migrants’ Rights at Amnesty International.

According to Amnesty International, at least two women detained had been forcibly separated from their babies even though they had been residing in Cyprus for many years and were married to EU citizens.

Future Worlds Center has also observed a rise in the numbers of detainees, especially of children, and is concerned about the plans announced by the Cypriot authorities to have a wing within the detention centre for the detention of migrant families.

UNHCR has stated that Cyprus needs to immediately address these flaws in its asylum system. “Seeking asylum is not an unlawful act and, as such, the detention of asylum-seekers on account of their unauthorised entry or presence in the country of asylum should in principle be avoided and used only in exceptional circumstances,” the UN Agency stressed.

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This article originally appeared in the ECRE Weekly Bulletin of 21 March 2014
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