KISA – Action for Equality, Support and Anti-racism urges the House of Representatives to send back to the government the proposed bill on material reception conditions of asylum seekers, because its approval will lead to violations of both the human rights of asylum seekers and the conventional obligations of the Republic of Cyprus under EU acquis and international refugee law.
The (Amending) Law on Public Benefits and Services of 2013 purports to change the legal framework through which the Republic of Cyprus opts to fulfill its obligations as a EU Member State for providing material reception conditions to asylum seekers, particularly those emanating from the Council Directive 2003/9/EC of 27 January 2003 which sets minimum standards for the reception of asylum seekers. According to the government’s claims, the purpose of the bill is to provide the necessary material reception conditions of asylum seekers, which include housing, food and clothing, as well as healthcare, in order to ensure decent living conditions for asylum seekers until the examination of their application for international protection. According to the key provisions of the proposed bill, which was submitted as a matter of urgency by the government, material reception conditions may be provided either in the form of financial allowances or in kind, or even vouchers (coupons).
This legislative proposal was submitted by the two responsible ministries (of Interior and Labour & Social Insurances) to the House of Representatives for discussion and voting, without any prior public consultation, despite the government’s obligation especially regarding bills that aim to harmonize Cypriot law with EU legislation. Moreover, there was no feasibility assessment as to the best possible way for the provision of material reception conditions to asylum seekers, a fact which essentially calls into question whether the provision of vouchers is expected to cost less than the provision of benefits, apart of course from a multitude of problems that are bound to occur by such a system, as well as the violation of the dignity of asylum seekers. Finally, the government is proposing such a complex and expensive mechanism in terms of management (provision of vouchers), without even having designed the necessary structures for the implementation of this measure.
Furthermore, several points of this bill come into direct conflict with Council Directive 2003/9/EC laying down minimum standards for the reception of asylum seekers in the EU Member States. In particular:
- The harmonization of the provision of material reception conditions to asylum seekers in all EU Member States should, in accordance with Article 8 of the Directive, “contribute to limiting the secondary movements of asylum seekers”, in terms of forcing them to move from one EU country to the other to seek asylum. It is also noted that in recent years asylum applications in Cyprus have fallen sharply due to many serious problems caused by the asylum system in place in Cyprus. The bill under consideration will further aggravate the situation and will, therefore, lead among other things to the encouragement rather than the reduction of secondary movements of asylum seekers.
- The provision of the legislative proposal to end any material reception conditions, including health care, to working asylum seekers, especially when taking into consideration the fact that asylum seekers can only work in the farming and agriculture sector on a salary of € 420 per month, violates the relevant provisions of the European Directive, simply because no person earning such a salary can provide housing, food, clothing, footwear and medical care either for themselves or their families, as provided for in Articles 13, 15, 17 and 20 of the Directive.
- Although the EU Directive provides that decisions on material reception conditions of asylum seekers are subject to appeal in court, the proposed bill does not ensure legal aid to those affected so they can appeal to court against administrative decisions, as this is provided for in Article 21 of the EU Directive.
KISA calls on all parliamentary parties and members of the House of Representatives not to proceed to approving this bill under the current circumstances, as it leads to serious violations of fundamental rights of asylum seekers. At the same time, KISA proposes that the bill be referred back to the government and calls on the competent ministries to publicly committing to open, public and substantial consultations before re-submitting the informed bill to Parliament.
Otherwise, KISA will proceed to all necessary legal and judicial procedures and file a complaint to the European Commission and other international bodies for violation of both the fundamental rights of asylum seekers and the contractual obligations of the Republic of Cyprus, which derived from EU legislation and international refugee law.