30 April 2014

ECRE’s member organisation Future Worlds Center and the Cyprus Office of UNHCR have expressed concern about amendments to Cyprus’ refugee legislation that exclude beneficiaries of subsidiary protection from protection against expulsion and the right to family reunification. Beneficiaries of subsidiary protection are persons deemed to be at risk of serious harm if returned to their country due to armed conflicts or generalized violence. With the exception of one person who was granted refugee status, all Syrians recognized in need of international protection in 2013 in Cyprus were granted subsidiary protection.

Among other amendments, the new law, published on the Official Gazette of the Republic on 15 April, also restricts the family reunification rights of refugees. The new law now includes most of the optional provisions of the Family Reunification Directive which allow derogation from the general standards. Refugees can only be reunited with their family members if their family relationships were formed prior to their entry into Cyprus and if their application for family reunification is submitted within three months after refugee status has been granted. According to UNHCR, these limitations do not sufficiently take into account the specific situation of refugees and may prove to be a serious obstacle to family reunification.

Future Worlds Center is gravely concerned by the latest amendments to the Cyprus refugee law and considers many articles to be in violation of EU and international law. Future Worlds Center’s Corina Drousiotou, stressed, “At a time when Cyprus’ neighbouring countries are in turmoil and people are fleeing from grave human rights violations, we expect our country to respect the fundamental rights of these populations and not to expose them to further hardship. Instead, with these latest amendments, Cyprus is implementing its European and international obligations below even the minimum standards. Cyprus as a nation has withdrawn its solidarity to the asylum seekers and refugees living among us.’

“We are disappointed that Cyprus has lowered its standards when it comes to the protection of persons fleeing war and generalised violence,” said Damtew Dessalegne, the UNHCR Representative in Cyprus. UNHCR considers that the humanitarian needs of persons benefiting from subsidiary protection are not different from those of refugees. The convergence of the refugee and subsidiary protection statuses was one of the objectives of the recast Qualification Directive adopted in December 2011. Also, in its guidance for the application of the Family Reunification Directive, the European Commission explicitly encourages Member States to grant similar rights and entitlements to refugees and beneficiaries of subsidiary protection.

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This article originally appeared in the ECRE Weekly Bulletin of 30 April 2014
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