a. Freedom of Expression, Including for Members of the Press and Other Media
The law provides for freedom of expression, including for the press and other media, and the government generally respected this right. An independent media, an effective judiciary, and a functioning democratic political system combined to promote freedom of expression, including for members of the media.
Freedom of Expression: The law criminalizes incitement to hatred and violence based on race, color, religion, genealogical origin, national or ethnic origin, or sexual orientation. Such acts are punishable by up to five years’ imprisonment, a fine, or both.
Censorship or Content Restrictions for Members of the Press and Other Media, Including Online Media: Independent media were active and expressed a wide variety of views without restriction.
The law penalizes the use of geographical names and toponyms in the country other than those included in the gazetteer the government presented at the 1987 Fifth UN Conference on the Standardization of Geographical Names. According to the law, anyone who publishes, imports, distributes, or sells maps, books, or any other documents in print or digital form that contain geographical names and toponyms on the island other than those permitted, commits an offense punishable by up to three years in prison, a fine, or both.
The government did not restrict or disrupt access to the internet or censor online content, and there were no credible reports that the government monitored private online communications without appropriate legal authority.
The law criminalizes the use of computer systems to incite and promote racism, xenophobia, prejudice, racial discrimination, hate speech, and violence. Such acts are punishable by up to five years’ imprisonment, a fine, or both.
Restrictions on Academic Freedom and Cultural Events
The law provides the government the right to deny entry to visitors who declare the intention to stay at a hotel in the area under Turkish Cypriot administration not originally owned by Turkish Cypriots. Pursuant to this law, the government maintains a policy of preventing visiting foreign academics and artistic groups from attending conferences or performing in the area administered by Turkish Cypriots if they make such a declaration. There were no reports of foreign academics being denied entry during the year.
b. Freedoms of Peaceful Assembly and Association
The constitution and law provide for the freedoms of peaceful assembly and association, and the government generally respected the freedom of assembly but limited freedom of association.
Freedom of Association
The NGO Action for Equality, Support, Antiracism (KISA) reported that the government continued to block its bank accounts following a December 2020 Ministry of Interior decision to remove the organization from the registry of associations and freeze its bank accounts because KISA had not complied in a timely manner with a 2020 amendment to the law governing NGOs. International human rights watchdogs, including the Council of Europe’s commissioner for human rights, Amnesty International, and five UN Human Rights Office special rapporteurs, criticized the government’s decision. The UN rapporteurs expressed grave concern regarding the deteriorating environment for civil society organizations, accusing the government of targeting KISA for its work supporting migrants and combating racial discrimination and xenophobia. While KISA registered as a not-for-profit company to continue to operate legally, authorities denied KISA access to migrant reception centers. KISA reported that the Ministry of Interior has not initiated court proceedings to dissolve KISA as an NGO, which are legally required to release its bank accounts. The government indicated it has initiated the liquidation process but KISA’s appeal, which is pending before the Administrative Court, has suspended the process. The freeze on KISA’s assets limited its capacity to operate, implement EU-funded projects, provide services to migrants and refugees, and advocate for their rights. KISA laid off all employees and relied on volunteers to continue limited operations (see section 5, Governmental Posture Towards International and Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Abuses of Human Rights).
d. Freedom of Movement and the Right to Leave the Country
The law provides for freedom of internal movement within government-controlled areas, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation, and the government generally respected these related rights.
In-country Movement: The government ended COVID-based restrictions on movements through crossing points to the areas administered by Turkish Cypriots.
The government did not restrict Greek Cypriots from traveling to the area administered by Turkish Cypriots, but the Ministry of Foreign Affairs warned foreigners against spending the night at Greek Cypriot-owned properties occupied by Turkish Cypriots or Turkish citizens, gambling in the area administered by Turkish Cypriots, or buying or developing property there. Authorities at ports of entry occasionally denied admission to nonresidents who listed hotels in the area administered by Turkish Cypriots as their intended place of residence during their visit. NGOs reported the government prohibited recognized non-Cypriot refugees with temporary residence status and asylum seekers from crossing to the area administered by Turkish Cypriots, asserting it could not assure their safety in an area not under its control. NGOs reported police officers at the crossing points occasionally harassed Greek Cypriots returning from the area under Turkish Cypriot administration.
e. Protection of Refugees
UNHCR and other humanitarian organizations reported difficulty in cooperating with the government to provide protection and assistance to refugees and asylum seekers.
Access to Asylum: The law provides for granting asylum or refugee status, and the government has established a system for providing protection to refugees. NGOs reported asylum seekers often had to wait for a month or longer outside Pournara reception center to file their asylum application.
Due to a significant increase in asylum claims during the year and long delays in the examination of applications, 29,715 asylum claims were pending as of the end of December, 10,907 more than the number at the end of 2021. The Asylum Service, the ombudsman, UNHCR, and NGOs reported some accelerated examination of asylum applications, but the backlog resulting from increased arrivals and inadequate staffing remained, and delays persisted in the appeals process. The government, UNHCR, and NGOs agreed that a significant proportion of registered asylum claims were not credible. In 2019 the government established an International Protection Administrative Court (IPAC) to streamline the examination of asylum appeals. Wait times to assess asylum claims continued to exceed the 21- to 24-month UN standard. UNHCR indicated in September that processing time for asylum cases could run up to three years. NGOs reported the establishment of IPAC was an improvement of the previous system and that its decisions were fair, but the process was slow. Despite an increase in the number of IPAC judges, a backlog of 8,013 appeals pending adjudication remained at year’s end.
Safe Country of Origin/Transit: The government continues to update a May 2020 list of safe countries of return with the aim of examining all applications from these countries under accelerated procedures. As of August 4, the list included 29 countries: Albania, Algeria, Armenia, Bangladesh, Benin, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Egypt, Gambia, Georgia, Ghana, India, Kenya, Kosovo, Moldova, Mongolia, Montenegro, Morocco, Nepal, Nigeria, North Macedonia, Pakistan, Philippines, Senegal, Serbia, Sri Lanka, The Gambia, Togo, Tunisia, Ukraine (excluding Crimea, Luhansk, and Donetsk regions), and Vietnam.
Refoulement: Media outlets, NGOs, and UNHCR reported that authorities continued pushing back boats carrying irregular migrants, including potential asylum seekers. From January to August, authorities pushed back to Lebanon a total of three boats carrying Syrian, Lebanese, and Palestinian migrants. UNHCR and NGOs reported many of these individuals faced “chain” refoulement, as they were subsequently deported from Lebanon back to Syria.
On July 4, Maritime Police transferred 52 Syrian, Lebanese, and Palestinian passengers from a boat that was sinking off the coast near Paphos to another boat and returned them to Lebanon without giving them the opportunity to access asylum procedures. Originally bound from Lebanon to Italy, the sinking boat requested assistance from Republic of Cyprus authorities due to bad weather and mechanical problems. According to passenger accounts reported by an NGO, the Maritime Police left the passengers on the sinking boat for two days before transferring them to another boat for return to Lebanon. Some of the passengers reported abuse by police officials who boarded their vessel.
On August 22, Maritime Police intercepted two boats that departed from Lebanon carrying 88 Syrian, Lebanese and Palestinian migrants. Police transferred them to another boat chartered by Republic of Cyprus authorities and returned them to Lebanon.
Abuse of Migrants and Refugees: NGOs and media reported that personnel at Pournara reception center, Social Welfare Service contractors, and police subjected asylum seekers and refugees to physical and verbal abuse. The NGO KISA reported that on October 27, a six-member family of Palestinian refugees was physically and verbally abused, and eventually arrested, by police at the Paphos Aliens and Immigration police service where they had an appointment to renew their residence permits. Reportedly, police told them there was no record of their appointment in the electronic appointment system and asked them to leave. The family explained they had made an appointment through their lawyer and refused to leave. According to the written complaint KISA submitted to the Independent Authority Investigating Complaints Against the Police, police used violence and racist language against the refugees, including their pregnant daughter, age 20, and their son, age 15. The refugees were arrested and charged with resisting arrest and attacking a police officer.
A video that appeared in the media September 2 showed a guard at Limassol Welfare Office verbally abusing an Iranian refugee woman who had arrived with her sick infant in her arms to ask for assistance because her landlord had disconnected the water and electricity supply to her apartment in an attempt to force her to leave. Deputy Minister of Social Welfare Anastasia Anthousi publicly denounced the guard’s behavior, and the guard was removed from his position.
KISA reported that an asylum seeker, age 25, died at Athalassa Psychiatric Hospital on February 20, a week after he was transferred from Pournara reception center to Nicosia General Hospital. KISA stated that other asylum seekers took the man, who was living in a tent outside the gates of Pournara without access to food assistance, to the camp’s medical unit on February 13 as he was suffering severe abdominal pain. When they found the asylum seeker that afternoon semiconscious on a bench outside the main entrance of the camp, they asked security guards to call an ambulance, but the guards refused. When the man later lost consciousness, a police officer from the camp called an ambulance, which transported the patient to Nicosia General hospital. According to KISA, doctors at the hospital could not find a physical cause for the asylum seeker’s condition and transferred him to the psychiatric hospital where he died on February 20. The Latsia police station was investigating the conditions of his death at year’s end.
Freedom of Movement: The government restricted the exit of asylum seekers from the Pournara migrant reception center in Kokkinotrimithia during the year. Asylum seekers were allowed to leave the center provided they had a residence address. UNHCR and NGOs, however, reported asylum seekers faced great difficulties finding accommodation without being allowed to exit the center. Finding accommodation online often resulted in asylum seekers paying a deposit for nonexistent accommodation or finding out that the accommodation was overcrowded or already rented to others. Some mobility outside of the camp was permitted starting on March 2; however, migrants continued to face significant hurdles to securing housing while based at Pournara.
The ombudsman reported that improvements were implemented during the year, including the easing of exit restrictions in March and the transfer of some residents with vulnerabilities to accommodations outside the center. CARITAS reported that vulnerable asylum seekers transferred from Pournara to Social Welfare Services accommodations before their applications were processed were often unable to return to the center to complete their asylum process because of inadequate public transportation links to the center. As a result, many of these individuals did not have access to benefits for months.
Access to Basic Services: Recognized refugees had access to public services such as education, health care, and the courts.
NGOs reported that refugees who were unable to renew their residency status due to measures imposed in 2021 to contain the spread of COVID-19 continued to face difficulties doing so. NGOs reported there was a four- to five-month waiting period for appointments at the immigration office, during which time refugees and beneficiaries of international protection remained out of status and lost access to benefits. Another NGO reported that immigration police officers advised refugees to hire private lawyers, agents, or other intermediaries, if they wished to arrange earlier appointments. The NGO said such intermediaries charged refugees large amounts for their services and in some cases did not arrange the appointments despite receiving the money.
Durable Solutions: The government offered recognized refugee status to 220 asylum seekers residing in the country.
Temporary Protection: The government also provided temporary protection, called subsidiary protection, to individuals who might not qualify as refugees. The government provided subsidiary protection status for citizens or residents of Syria who entered the country legally but only some who entered illegally. All persons seeking such status were required to provide a Syrian passport or other identification. Authorities granted subsidiary protection to 228 persons during the year, a number significantly lower than the 1,983 individuals granted subsidiary protection in 2021.