We are currently in a period during which:
- The majority of persons with international protection status has left Cyprus, in order to pursue a better and safer future in another member state of the European Union, due to the adverse consequences of the economic crisis, of the sharp and dangerous increase in xenophobia, discrimination, and racism, of the complete lack of programmes to allow these persons to participate in Cypriot society, as well as the continuous deterioration of the government’s policies and practices that lead these people to impoverishment and desperation.
- The evaluation at the level of the European Commission is that the Republic of Cyprus is not fulfilling its obligations to a satisfactory level as specified in European law about asylum (such as, for example, the hosting conditions, the procedures of examining asylum and access to effective legal advice that must be provided to asylum seekers) and this has already set in motion proceedings in the European Communities Court, with severe political and economic consequences for Cyprus.
- The European Court of Human Rights has ruled, through the decision M.A v. Cyprus, [i], that the legal guarantees provided by Cypriot refugee law and the resulting legal aid that are specified in the European Charter of Human Rights are in violation of the European Charter and hence, the Republic of Cyprus will have to immediately improve the legal aid provided to asylum seekers.
All the aforementioned points are data that should have already led the competent authorities of the Republic of Cyprus to the required improvement of the system of asylum and refugee justice. However, instead of proceeding in this direction, the competent authorities of the Republic of Cyprus chose to further exacerbate the existing legal and political framework with new proposed alterations to the existing legislation.
More specifically, with the proposed bills:
- The status of protection on humanitarian grounds will be abolished, a status which is essentially granted either to family with children at school or to persons who are facing severe health problems.
- In contradiction to the expectations in refugee justice, there is an attempt to restrict the right to free movement of people, which constitutes clear discrimination comparative to the rights and freedoms of Cypriot citizens, as their movement is only restricted to areas under the jurisdiction of the Republic of Cyprus.
- There is an attempt to restrict the vital right to reunification and protection of family members of persons with international protection status.
To be exact, the Director of the Asylum Service – in an attempt to convince the members of the parliamentary committee of Internal affairs – used unfounded claims and populist, xenophobic and racist arguments. Specifically, the Director claimed:
- “A necessity to combat abuse of the asylum system”: Considering the sharp drop in asylum seekers’ requests submitted to the competent authorities of the Republic of Cyprus, it is now obvious there is no issue of abuse or pressure on the asylum system. Therefore, the Director cannot call on the situation that reigned in the past due to the authorities’ inability to deal with rings of human exploitation.
- “Calling upon the discretionary powers granted by the relevant Community directives, to assist with the combating of abuse of the asylum system”: At the same time, the Director misinterprets the discretionary powers granted by the Community directives, mentioning that they are intended to be used in “combating of abuse of the asylum system”, when in fact, this ability refers to issues subject to differences of opinion at the level of member states, and hence the discretionary powers are granted to each member state to allow it to implement its own policies.
- “A connection between the free movement of individuals with international protection status and risks to national security and civic order”: To make matters worse, the Director uses a populist, xenophobic, and racist rhetoric, resulting in further stigmatisation of individuals with international protection status as a “new category of settlers” from Turkey.
Finally, in his efforts to avoid criticism relating to the fact that persons with international protection status are leaving Cyprus, and, as the head of the competent service, instead of defending the rights of these people and supporting the necessity to avoid a possible conviction of the Republic of Cyprus, due to the inadequacy of implemented asylum policies, the Director of the Asylum Service attempted to avoid the essence of the entire discussion, even asking – in an unacceptable and demagogic manner – whether individuals with international protection status “will have to receive two to three kinds of benefits to stay in Cyprus”.
KISA – Action for Equality, Support and Antiracism unequivocally and publicly condemns the unsupported claims and unacceptable stance of the Director of the Asylum Service. Furthermore, KISA urges all political parties to reject the attempt to further worsen the system of asylum and the further restriction of the rights and freedoms of persons with international protection status in Cyprus, since, in the opposite case, they are in danger of leading the Republic of Cyprus to yet another conviction by the European Communities Court. KISA also urges the members of the House of Representatives, the parliamentary parties and the Cypriot government to evaluate the aforementioned problems faced by the asylum system in Cyprus and to proceed to the implementation of integrated measures to deal with them immediately, in order to reverse this grim situation, and recognise the basic rights of persons with international protection status, including the effective integration in Cypriot society.
Notes for editors:
[i] According to this decision, the right to an effective remedy (Article 13) has been violated, in relation to the protection of life (Article 2), the prevention of tortures, inhuman treatment and cruel punishment (Article 3), as well as personal freedom (Article 5) in the case of of an asylum seeker who has been detained and deported back to Syria in 2010.
KISA – Action for Equality, Support, Antiracism – Tuesday, 23 July 2013. “Unanimous decision of the European Court of Human Rights condemns the Republic of Cyprus – Lack of an effective remedy in cases of detention and deportation of asylum seekers and unlawful detention of aiming to deportation”.
European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) 230 (2013) – Press Release – Tuesday, 23 July /2013 – “Lack of an effective remedy in relation to deportation and unlawful detention of Syrian national”