The Minister of Interior aims at the breach of the right to asylum
and constitutional guarantees
The Minister of Interior openly resorts to incitement to racism, hate speech and a demagogical manipulation of data in order to create a climate in society that would render impossible any sober and democratic debate on asylum and migration issues. At the same time, he attempts to blackmail the Parliament to immediately proceed, without any substantial dialogue, to the adoption of the proposed government bills, which aim at the abolition of constitutional rights and procedural guarantees provided by the European and International Law on asylum, as for example the fundamental right of access to effective judicial remedy.
Indicatively, KISA notes the following:
- The Minister refers, at every opportunity, to a percentage of 3.8% of asylum seekers in relation to the total population pointing out that this percentage has led to the “overflow” and “change of demographic and cultural character” of Cyprus. Further to promoting racism, these numbers do not correspond to reality. According to AIDA data (Asylum Information Database), asylum seekers today stand at 17.000. The population of Cyprus in the government controlled areas of the Republic of Cyprus stands just under 900.000. The percentage of asylum seekers is therefore 1.89% and not double this percentage as the Minister repeatedly claims. Needless to say that the static approach of percentages – without taking into consideration other important factors and qualitative data, as for example non-existent integration policies – is a completely ineffective tool for assessing the situation and shaping the measures to be taken to address the needs of asylum seekers, as provided for in refugee law. Furthermore, the Minister fails to note that the number of pending applications is largely due to the Ministry’s inability to address the problems. These problems stem from the particular migration model, political and systemic racist practices in the field of migration (e.g. precarious residence and work permits, violation of basic human and labour rights). Furthermore, there are serious problems concerning recruitment of students to private tertiary education, corruption and exploitation in the very government services. A most important factor is also understaffing of the authorities responsible for examination of asylum applications and the courts.
- The Minister defames asylum seekers in a most inappropriate and unacceptable way, blaming them for the phenomenon of marriages of convenience. In this case, too, the Minister demagogically misleads the society. The Civil Registry and Migration Department does not grant the required certificate for a civil marriage to asylum seekers. If the Minister really has evidence of civil marriages by asylum seekers, then he should turn his attention to combating corruption in the competent departments of his Ministry, the Police, the local government and specific private agencies.
- Mr. Nouris does not miss an opportunity to identify asylum seekers with terrorism and fundamentalism. In an interview with the newspaper Phileleftheros he referred to asylum seekers held in Menogia, claiming they are “wanted” by Interpol and associating them with the Islamic State and Al Qaida. We are aware of many cases pending before Court and there is no such connection made by the Authorities. At the same time the credibility of the data and information the Minister claims to possess is questionable. The Supreme Court has only recently set free a person, held for 13 months, because no evidence was provided. In another case, official information submitted to the Court, Interpol itself refuting the Minister’s claims.
- The Minister speaks of the need to accelerate asylum procedures. Acceleration of the examination of asylum applications examination is a standing request by KISA, as in this way the rights of refugees are secured. The high number of long-term pending applications (3-7 years) is primarily due to government omissions. Since 2007 KISA has been requesting the abolition of the Refugee Reviewing Authority (RRA) and the creation of specialised International Protection Administrative Court (IPAC). The RRA which has never served the purpose for which it was founded, i.e. the just review of the Asylum Services decisions, has been maintained for the last 10 years for the purpose of serving party interests, extending the asylum process for at least 2-3 years. Two of the three RRA members are close associates of the President and were appointed without relevant qualifications. Even though after a decade of demands the IPAC was finally set up, it is still to be staffed sufficiently to manage the pending applications with the required sped.
- The European asylum system aims to justice and effectiveness. The demand for rapid examination of applications is correct and aims to achieve an effective asylum system. What the Minister fails to mention is that efficiency must be in proportion and balance with the right of applicants to fair asylum proceedings. With the proposed legislative changes, the government is essentially seeking to repeal the procedural guarantees provided by both the European and International asylum law. Further to violating constitutionally guaranteed rights, the intended reduction of the time limit for filing an appeal will make it practically impossible for applicants to appeal to Justice and ell as the judicial decision required by the refugee law on their application
KISA believes that repressive policies and xenophobic rhetoric do not help resolve accumulating problems. For this reason, it calls upon the Minister of Interior to abandon the demonization of asylum seekers through false and unsubstantiated allegations, hate speech and the targeting of NGOs. What is essential is constructive public debate aimed at enforcing measures for a comprehensive immigration policy and an effective and fair asylum system.