According to information sent to the GDP by the Cyprus Refugee Council (CRC), Cyprus has not ordered a moratorium on new immigration detention orders. Instead, the government’s newly initiated Action Plan – developed before the start of the pandemic in order to address the large number of asylum applications, but presented as a response to the virus – shows the state’s intention to increase the use of detention (as well as lower reception standards and swiftly conduct removals upon the rejection of asylum claims). In March, the state also stopped accepting new asylum applications which has resulted in persons who were attempting to apply remaining undocumented. This practice is expected to be in effect until 21 May 2020.
Noting the government’s increasingly anti-migrant stance, the CRC wrote, “for the first time in mid-March 2020, we had a pushback of a boat carrying migrants from Syria. The authorities fave food supplies and fuel to the passengers and told them that they cannot be allowed to disembark in the country, asking them to go back.”
With the exception of one couple over the age of 60 who had underlying health conditions, there have been no releases of asylum seekers and third country nationals from immigration detention – despite the suspension of removal procedures. Instead, it appears that the use of detention has intensified. Having converted the first Reception Centre into a closed detention centre overnight, authorities moved asylum seekers residing in hostels with government provisions, as well as some undocumented migrants in the process of applying for asylum who were living in abandoned buildings, into the closed facility. Worryingly, these transfers were taking place at cases peaked in the country. Persons are currently being held here indefinitely and without detention orders, and most had no warning of their transfer – they were not even permitted to collect their belongings. The conditions in this facility are substandard: sanitary facilities are poor and the majority of detainees are living in tents.
The country’s main immigration detention centre – Menoyia Detention Centre – has stopped receiving new detainees (on average, the number of people detained remains between 60 and 70), with the exception of a small number (two persons at a given time) who have been transferred from the Central Prison. Non-nationals who are apprehended are instead being held in holding cells in police stations across the country: in April, it was estimated that 35 persons had been detained in such a way.
Detainees in Menoyia who display symptoms such as a fever, cough, or runny nose are being tested for Covid-19. Such individuals are also confined separately in a wing of the facility that was not previously operating. To-date, there have been no confirmed cases in the centre. Additional measures have also been introduced within the facility including: the suspension of visits; new arrivals (although this is a small number) are quarantined in a separate area before being placed with the rest of the detainees; and the provision of disinfectants/hand sanitiser for detainees to use.
The CRC is running an EPIM-funded ATD project (now in its third year), which is based on engagement-based ATDs, namely case management. However, the organisation does not have the capacity to provide accommodation. “Following the pandemic we have submitted recommendations for the release of persons with vulnerabilities; who have vulnerable family members living in the community; who have accommodation available, and provided suggestions on how these persons will engage with the authorities and remain in compliance with procedures, through our pilot. There was no official response provided by the state.”
- Refugees at the Kokkinotrimithia Reception Centre in Pournara, (“Refugees at Kokkinotrimithia Reception Centre Go on Hunger Strike,” Cyprus Mail, 5 May 2020, https://cyprus-mail.com/2020/05/05/refugees-at-kokkinotrimithia-reception-centre-go-on-hunger-strike/)
- Cyprus Refugee Council (CRC), GDP Survey and Email Exchange, May 2020, https://cyrefugeecouncil.org/
- Global Detention Project, “Menoyia Detention Centre,” https://www.globaldetentionproject.org/countries/europe/cyprus/detention-centres/1242/menoyia-menogeia-immigration-detention-centre
- Global Detention Project, “Immigration Detention in Cyprus, August 2019 Update,” https://www.globaldetentionproject.org/countries/europe/cyprus