05 February 2015

The Cypriot authorities have this week closed the temporary camp Kokkinotrimithia, which had been home to over 300 Syrian and Palestinian migrants after they were rescued off the coast of Cyprus in September last year. The camp’s closure leaves 85 remaining individuals, believed to be mostly Palestinians, with no immediate shelter. NGOs believe that the government is unlikely to detain or remove the refugees but that they will remain undocumented. In September, the government had given them a 3-month temporary residence permit allowing the refugees time in which to apply for asylum or a residence permit with the right to work in Cyprus. But this period has now ended and many do not wish to take either option. According to ECRE member Kisa, the government promised to provide a “Visitors’ Visa” permitting a stay longer than three months but giving no right to work.

The developments have exposed a series of reasons discouraging refugees to apply for asylum in Cyprus. “A deterrent to applying for asylum is the fact that the majority of Syrian nationals that have already applied for asylum in Cyprus have been granted subsidiary protection, a status which, in Cyprus, does not give individuals the right to family reunification”, said Corina Drousiotou from Cypriot NGO and ECRE member Future Worlds Center. Furthermore, according to the organisation, it is very difficult for refugees to settle in Cyprus as they have little chances of finding a job due to the current economic situation in Cyprus and they receive no integration support during the asylum procedure and once granted protection in Cyprus.

Future Worlds Center has told the ECRE Weekly Bulletin that the refugees’ refusal to apply for asylum in Cyprus highlights the vast differences between asylum systems and standard of living across the EU and the need to work harder towards harmonization. “In the meantime, the wish of refugees to be given the right to choose the country in which they are to apply for international protection remains a valid one to examine further,” said Drousiotou.

The government had been phasing out the services provided to refugees in the camp over the past several weeks, which garnered criticism from local NGOs such as KISA, who said the government was exposing the refugees to ‘inhuman, humiliating and degrading treatment’.

According to UNHCR, out of the 337 refugees that were rescued, approximately 71 have submitted applications for asylum, 165 have opted for a residence permit, which entails no material benefits. The remaining individuals have refused to apply for either option. Kisa criticised the government’s decision to make the refugees leave the camp before having granted the Visitors’ visa or other documents and highlighted that refugees will not be able to rent accommodation legally as in order to do that they would need to prove that they reside legally in Cyprus.


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