The so-called Pournara Reception Centre in Kokkinotrimithia has been turned from a Centre of initial registration and medical examination of asylum seekers, with a maximum period of stay of 72 hours, to a Detention Centre, where today more than 600 people are detained for long periods, deprived of their freedom, under inhuman and humiliating living conditions.
On the pretext of the coronavirus, the Minister of interior proceeded to the compulsory transfer of an additional large number of asylum seekers from centres and facilities where they stayed in various districts under tolerable conditions, to the Pournara Detention Centre, so as to keep them in detention and in “quarantine”, when there were no coronavirus cases in the facilities they stayed, without being informed about the reasons and their right to judicial recourse. Putting asylum seekers who were transferred there in quarantine violates the decrees of the Ministry of Health on the coronavirus as they do not fall under any of the categories for which quarantine is mandatory.
KISA points out that, in violation of the principle of the prohibition of discrimination and on clearly racist criteria, the large majority of asylum seekers transferred to and/or already at the Pournara Detention Centre are people of African descent.
In addition, the government has, again on the pretext of the coronavirus, suspended refugees’ and asylum seekers’ access to the asylum procedures:
- The Cyprus coast guard, in violation of the Refugee Law and European legislation, forced a refugee boat away from Cyprus’s territory waters, which resulted in their being saved by the T/C authorities, where they are hosted until now.
- The Alien and Immigration Unit of the Police refuse to receive new asylum applications, which leaves a number of refugees without a residence status and access to rights and to healthcare.
The government has limited the free movement of detained asylum seekers as well as access of NGOs and volunteer organisations to the Reception Centre in Kofinou to such an extent that this Centre too has in effect been turned to a “closed centre”. In addition to limiting access to Kofinou, the government has also prohibited KISA’s and other NGOs’ access to Pournara, again in violation of the law and the right of asylum seekers to have access to human rights NGOs.
The contention that the government is exploiting the pandemic in order to limit refugees’ rights is clearly demonstrated by the fact that these measures had been announced before the pandemic, in the framework of the toxic environment shaped by the government on the pretext of the increase in the number of asylum seekers, which should have been expected in view of the situation in Syria and the Turkish policy on refugees, and the adoption of a xenophobic and racist rhetoric, which links refugee issues with terrorism, criminality, cultural and demographic threats to the Cypriot society.
KISA considers the above policies and actions of the Minister of Interior and the government as unlawful and in breach of the Refugee Law and European legislation but also as extremely dangerous to public health and to the health of asylum seekers for the following reasons:
- Detention of asylum seekers is an exceptional measure which can only be imposed in very specific circumstances which do not apply in this case. The Pournara Centre has in effect been turned to a Centre of unlawful detention of hundreds of asylum seekers.
- The designation of specific place of residence linked with the provision of reception conditions is again an exceptional measure, to the right of asylum seekers to free movement and it is unlawful and arbitrary as the procedures provided for in the law were not followed.
- The detention of more than 600 people in the Pournara Detention Centre under inhuman and humiliating conditions, which do not ensure at the minimum the necessary hygiene conditions and the implementation of the coronavirus decrees of the Minister of Health, endangers primarily the asylum seekers but public health as well.
Once again KISA calls on the state to proceed immediately to changing its policies, to put an end to the unlawful detention of asylum seekers and to ensure access to the right to health and protection from the coronavirus by all, irrespective of ethnic origin or residence status.
In the framework of its role and action for the protection of the human rights of asylum seekers and against their racist treatment, KISA will consider legal measures and will also proceed with reports to the competent European and international bodies.