As of late January, the prolonged forced quarantine of migrants and asylum seekers continued at the Temporary Accommodation Centre in Kokkinotrimithia (“Pournara”) and the Kofinou Reception and Accommodation Centre, under strict lockdown since mid-November 2020. This has caused tensions among the migrants in the already overpopulated centres, and put unaccompanied children at the facilities at increased risk of harm.
Several positive COVID-19 cases have been confirmed at both centres. On 17 November 2020, 16 people at the Kofinou centre tested positive. Riots erupted after they refused to be transferred elsewhere to prevent its spread, though authorities were eventually able to transfer 14 to the Eden Resort rehabilitation centre and the remaining two to Famagusta hospital. The Interior Minister characterised the riots as an “unfortunate cultural phenomenon” in a televised interview. In contrast, an adviser to the Cyprus Refugee Council said that the migrants’ reactions can be understood in the light of the strict lockdown. As many of these people have been living at the centre for years, many feared that they would be deported.
On 4 December 2020, the Cyprus Ombudswoman and Commissioner for Administration and Human Rights conducted a visit to Pournara Centre. In her 14-page report, she called for permits to be given immediately to 200 individuals (including 13 unaccompanied minors) who were eligible to exit the camp facility, but were previously prevented by the lockdown decree. She also criticised the detention of the migrants in isolation areas for longer than 14 days, and the poor hygiene, electricity (some sections had none), and safety provisions in the quarantine areas. She reported that there were 968 people residing at the centre, of whom 365 were in the main area and the remaining 603 in the designated isolation and quarantine spaces (in contrast, media reports have claimed that there are more than 1,500 people at the centre). There is an additional guarded safe zone in the main area, where families and unaccompanied minors live. In the quarantine/isolation wing, there is no security zone. Additionally, 865 persons were adults and 103 were confirmed or self-reported minors. The ombudswoman reported that soap and shampoo were being provided to everyone, and that a doctor is present three days a week, while one nurse is present at all times, which the nurse said was insufficient for such a large population. At the time of the visit, 23 people with positive COVID-19 test results were living in the quarantine wing, which had only one toilet and no showers. According to the report, the overpopulation conditions at the centre are an environmental factor contributing to the increased exposure risk to COVID-19 of the detained migrants.
The extended lockdown in the centres is exasperating tensions at the centres and creating new problems and dangers. During 11-12 January, a large fight broke out between groups of Syrians and people from different African countries at Pournara, which reportedly lasted seven hours. According to the Interior Ministry, there was extensive damage to the windows, beds, furniture, and a section of fencing around the camp. The police said that over 600 people were involved, many of whom were “holding steel rods, throwing rocks, and breaching a fence that was erected earlier to keep different ethnic groups separate.” Reportedly 25-35 people had minor injuries and eight people were placed under arrest. UNHCR’s Cyprus representative said: “Overcrowded conditions at the centre and the ensuing pressure on existing infrastructure, along with the uncertainty regarding when and under what conditions they would be able to exit often triggers tensions. … Those at the centre report that they are without basic goods required for dignified living, such as warm clothes and personal hygiene products.” More recently, the detained migrants have been protesting within the camp for their rights and their immediate release. One protest happened on 23 January 2021 (Video footage: https://www.facebook.com/102876444850062/videos/445050286529794 ) and another on 25 January 2021 (Photo and video footage: https://www.facebook.com/generationforchangeCY/videos/3227711600662143 and https://www.facebook.com/KISACYPRUS/posts/5236711569687242). According to the NGO KISA Action for Equality, Support, Anti-Racism, around 1,300 of the estimated 1,500 camp inhabitants took part in the protest on the 25th.
The lockdown has led to the detention of minors in the Centres. On 18 January 2021, the Cyprus Commissioner for the Protection of Children’s Rights sent a letter to the interior, health, and education ministries and the ombudswoman, condemning the continued detention of children due to the COVID-19 lockdown in the two reception centres, Pournara and Kofinou. She said that she does not support the decision to convert the reception centres into closed detention centres through the lockdown decree, since this constitutes a violation of the provisions of International Conventions and national laws in relation to the treatment of asylum seekers including families with children and unaccompanied minors. She writes how in Pournara, there are currently reportedly 60 unaccompanied minors, yet their safe zone is overcrowded and there are no separate quarantine areas for them. The general exit ban from the camp has also led to a stagnation of the necessary procedures for the minors to be moved outside the Centre. Turning the centre in Kofinou into a closed one has also had adverse and disproportionate effects for the children living there, depriving them of the right to attend their school from mid-November to mid-December. The commissioner said: “Based on oral information received from the Municipal and Middle Directorate of the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports and Youth, efforts were made for children to receive distance education. However, distance education involves multiple technical and practical difficulties which are still more intense for these children, and in no case can it replace the education through the physical presence of the children in the school and its benefits in their psychosocial development.”
- Kathimerini, “Κύπρος: Lockdown σε Λεμεσό και Πάφο”, 11 November 2020, https://www.kathimerini.gr/world/561153904/kypros-lockdown-se-lemeso-kai-pafo/.
- Cyprus Government Press and Information Office, “Coronavirus Decrees,” https://www.pio.gov.cy/coronavirus/categories/diat
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- Office for the Commissioner for Administration and the Protection of Human Rights (Ombudsman), “Έκθεση αναφορικά µε την επίσκεψη στο Κέντρο Προσωρινής Υποδοχής και Φιλοξενίας Μεταναστών «Πουρνάρα» στην Κοκκινοτριµιθιά, ηµεροµηνίας 4 Δεκεµβρίου,” 9 December 2020, http://www.ombudsman.gov.cy/Ombudsman/ombudsman.nsf/All/D84E0C0F64378C50C22586390050AA86/$file/pournara.pdf?OpenElement
- Financial Mirror, “UNHCR wants migrant camp decongested,” 14 January 2021, https://www.financialmirror.com/2021/01/14/unhcr-wants-migrant-camp-decongested/
- Knews, “Officials weigh in on Pournara brawl: Eight asylum seekers arrested, government says restrictions and overcrowding not an excuse,” 13 January 2021, https://knews.kathimerini.com.cy/en/news/officials-weigh-in-on-pournara-brawl
- E. Wallis, “Cyprus: Injuries after fights break out at overcrowded migrant camp,” InfoMigrants, 13 January 2021, https://www.infomigrants.net/en/post/29607/cyprus-injuries-after-fights-break-out-at-overcrowded-migrant-camp
- E. Andreou, “UN agency calls for decongestion of migrant camp after brawl (Updated),” Cyprus Mail, 13 January 2021, https://cyprus-mail.com/2021/01/13/eu-asylum-support-office-sending-more-personnel-to-cyprus/
- A. Pitta, “Children in migrant centres denied basic human rights, says top official,” Cyprus Mail, 20 January 2021, https://cyprus-mail.com/2021/01/20/children-in-migrant-centres-denied-basic-human-rights-says-top-official/?fbclid=IwAR08eiFY6AYhv_zNpf3KZXqUdS9kZdiq00DkuovB-qA8-5fpWV0L9HzQ3Hg
- Offsite, “Μιχαηλίδου: Πλήττονται δικαιώματα παιδιών στα κέντρα υποδοχής,” 20 January 2021, https://www.offsite.com.cy/eidiseis/topika/mihailidoy-plittontai-dikaiomata-paidion-sta-kentra-ypodohis
- Επίτροπος Προστασίας των Δικαιωμάτων του Παιδιού (Commissioner for Children’s Rights), “Θέμα: Συνθήκες διαβίωσης στα Κέντρα φιλοξενίας των αιτητών ασύλου,” 18 January 2021, https://kisa.org.cy/wp-content/uploads/2021/01/ChildCom-Pournara-report-20012021.pdf
- Two Children and an Official at the Pournara Migrant Camp, (Cyprus Mail, “Children in Migrant Centres Denied Basic Human Rights, Says Top Official,” 20 January 2021, https://cyprus-mail.com/2021/01/20/children-in-migrant-centres-denied-basic-human-rights-says-top-official/?fbclid=IwAR08eiFY6AYhv_zNpf3KZXqUdS9kZdiq00DkuovB-qA8-5fpWV0L9HzQ3Hg)