Refoulement: The ombudsman reported that authorities discontinued the practice of deporting asylum seekers while their application appealing the rejection of their asylum application was pending. In 2016 the ombudsman warned authorities in writing that deportation in those cases could amount to an infringement on the principle of nonrefoulement. An NGO reported that authorities instead pressured asylum seekers arrested for immigration offenses to withdraw their appeal in exchange for being sent to a safe third country willing to receive them.
Access to Asylum: The law provides for the granting of asylum or refugee status, and the government has established a system for providing protection to refugees.
The ombudsman reported delays in the examination of asylum applications and delays in the examination of appeals against rejections of asylum applications.
In a March 2016 report based on a visit to the country’s only reception center for asylum seekers in Kofinou, the Council of Europe’s commissioner for human rights deplored a 2014 law restricting the right of refugees and beneficiaries of subsidiary protection to family reunification. The commissioner noted the termination of the practice of detaining Syrian asylum seekers and the reduction of the capacity of the Mennoyia Detention Center by half, but expressed concern over the growing number of rejected asylum seekers and other migrants who were detained for long periods of time while awaiting deportation.
The NGO KISA visited the Mennoyia Detention Center several times during the year and reconfirmed the ombudsman’s findings that detention facilities for rejected asylum seekers did not respect their fundamental rights. KISA reported that conditions at the center had improved but found the change did not entirely end the inhuman and degrading treatment of detainees.
The government provides subsidiary protection status for citizens or residents of Syria who entered the country legally or illegally. All persons seeking such status were required to provide a Syrian passport or other identification.
Employment: Authorities allowed asylum seekers whose cases were awaiting adjudication to work after residing six months in the country but limited them to the areas permitted by law. The law restricts the areas of employment for asylum seekers to fisheries, the production of animal feed, waste management, gas stations and car washes, freight handling in the wholesale trade, building and outdoor cleaning, distribution of advertising and informational materials, and food delivery.
There were reports of racism by Labor Department officers who met with valid residency applicants seeking a contract of employment. From January to October, the Ministry of Labor and Social Insurance approved 36 labor contracts for asylum seekers, of which seven were in agriculture, 12 in car wash services, six in distribution of advertising and informational material, nine in outdoor cleaning, and two for labor work in recycling facilities.
Local NGOs complained about the remoteness of the government’s reception center for asylum seekers at Kofinou, located approximately 40 kilometers (24.8 miles) from Nicosia, the lack of language or job training, and the shortage of job opportunities other than as day laborers at nearby farms.
Access to Basic Services: Asylum seekers who refused an available job could be denied state benefits. To obtain welfare benefits, asylum seekers also needed a valid address, which was not possible for those who were homeless. NGOs and asylum seekers reported delays and inconsistencies in the delivery of benefits to eligible asylum seekers.
In its observations released on May 12, the UN Committee for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD) expressed concern over the limited reception facilities and insufficient access to services for the large number of asylum seekers at the Kofinou center; the limited range of employment opportunities for asylum seekers; the negative impact on the ability of asylum seekers to access benefits or assistance if categorized as “willfully unemployed,” and the insufficiency of social assistance benefits paid to asylum seekers.
The ombudsman reported improvement but only on a case-by-case basis following her July 2016 report highlighting the problem of retroactive welfare benefits owed to asylum seekers. The ombudsman also reported that the system of providing welfare support to asylum seekers via coupons was problematic in that the special needs of vulnerable groups among asylum seekers were not taken into account or accommodated appropriately. The coupons could be redeemed only in specific shops that may lack some supplies and were usually more expensive than other grocery stores.
An NGO reported that the procedure to enable access of asylum seekers to state medical care was cumbersome and time consuming.
Temporary Protection: The government also provided temporary protection, called subsidiary protection, to individuals who may not qualify as refugees. Authorities granted subsidiary protection to 767 persons in the first eight months the year.