UNHCR has, within its mandate of providing international protection to refugees and seeking durable solutions to their problems, a legitimate interest in the standards of treatment that asylum-seekers enjoy during the time they await a decision on their asylum application.
The key consideration for UNHCR is that the basic dignity and rights of asylum-seekers are protected in accordance with international law standards.
The inadequacies of the reception conditions for asylum-seekers in the Republic of Cyprus have long been cause for serious concern to UNHCR. To acquire an in-depth knowledge of the problems as a basis for charting a way forward, UNHCR commissioned the University of Nicosia to carry out a comprehensive study on the reception conditions of asylum-seekers in the country focusing on five key areas: employment, housing, education, social assistance and community relations.
The Study involved desk research, one-on-one and group interviews with nearly 600 asylum-seekers across the country and further interviews with government officials, NGO representatives and other key stakeholders. From these interviews and careful review of relevant legislation, policies and practices, the researchers were able to ascertain how the existing reception modalities for asylum-seekers operate and feed into the broader national asylum system and related policies and procedures.
The overall picture emerging from this Study is not encouraging. With less than 10 percent of asylum-seekers in the country accommodated at the Kofinou Reception Centre, decent housing is the single greatest problem thousands of asylum-seekers are confronted with. An additional major difficulty identified in the Study was the long waiting period before asylum‐seekers would be allowed to work, as well as the employment sectors they are restricted to thereafter. These already vulnerable individuals and families who are unable to work or cannot find work are severely materially deprived because of the level of social assistance they receive that is significantly below the national risk-of-poverty threshold.
“This Report is not a work of academic research,” said Damtew Dessalegne, the UNHCR Representative in Cyprus, “but primarily a call to action for better standards of treatment of refugee applicants in a manner that asserts the value of asylum. I hope that policy-makers, as well as refugee advocates, will find in this Study food for thought.”
The Report has been shared with the competent governmental authorities, and will be presented and discussed at an open public event that will take place on 24 May at 10:00am –12:00pm, at the Cine Studio of the University of Nicosia. The Report will be made available online at the UNHCR website after the discussion event.