6 June 2014

The UN Committee Against Torture has raised serious concerns regarding the detention of asylum seekers and undocumented migrants in Cyprus.

Although according to Cypriot legislation, asylum seekers should only be detained in exceptional circumstances and for a maximum of 32 days, the Committee highlights that these safeguards are circumvented in the majority of cases by detaining asylum seekers throughout the asylum procedure as undocumented migrants or for minor offences. The review says that “[t]his situation prompted various hunger strikes by Syrian refugees in 2013 and incidents of suicide in protest against their detention”.

Also contrary to Cypriot law, as well as the EU Returns Directive, undocumented migrants pending their removal are ‘routinely detained, without consideration for less coercive measures or the person’s risk of absconding and sometimes for periods that exceed the 18-month maximum legal period. The on average eight months that it takes for judicial review of a detention order is too long, according to the Committee.

The Committee also notes with concern that detention is permitted during the age verification process of unaccompanied children or in cases where a mother with minor children refuses to cooperate. In addition, children aged over eight can be forcibly separated from their parents and placed under social services care.

Regarding conditions of detention, the Committee raises the numerous allegations of ill-treatment by police in the Menogia detention centre, the main immigration detention facility, as well as “very limited outdoor access, poor quality of food and frequent resort to solitary confinement”.

The Committee also condemns the absence of safeguards against refoulement – the returnof asylum seekers to countries where they face a risk of persecution or serious harm. The Committee notes that asylum seekers and undocumented migrants can be returned to their country of origin prior to the final determination of their challenge against deportation, which prompted the European Court of Human Rights to declare in July 2013 a violation of the prohibition against inhuman or degrading treatment.

Particular concern is expressed about the recent legislative amendments providing that persons granted subsidiary protection status – people recognised as fleeing war, torture or inhuman or degrading treatment – are no longer protected against refoulement. While refugee status still entails such protection, Eurostat indicates that only 4% of protection decisions in 2013 granted refugee status, giving Cyprus one of the lowest refugee recognition rates in the EU.

The restriction of legal aid for asylum applicants challenging deportation orders to those who can prove ‘blatant illegality’ or ‘irreparable damage’ is also highlighted as a problem. Further information:

This article originally appeared in the ECRE Weekly Bulletin of 06 June 2014.
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