1974 – 1997
UNHCR has been assisting in Cyprus since 1974. At the request of the Government of Cyprus (GoC) and the United Nations Secretary General(UN-SG), UNHCR operated programs for Internally Displaced Persons(IDP) till 1998. This assistance included provision of housing and contribution to the development of small industries as well as promotion of projects and bi-communal activities, in order to remedy the shortages created due to population displacements and to encourage co-operation between Greek Cypriots and Turkish Cypriots towards a unified approach as regards issues of common concern. This function lasted till 1997.
Since the establishment of a UNHCR office in Cyprus in 1974 and until June 1998, the office received a small number of applications for refugee status per year. In 1998, however, a boat with persons claiming fear for their lives or serious violations of their human rights in their countries of origin arrived in Cyprus asking for asylum.
1998 - 2002
Since 1998 it has worked on its regular mandate (international refugees), as the designated authority charged with supervising the implementation of international refugee conventions. The UN General Assembly (UN-GA) Resolution establishing UNHCR, as well as the 1951 Refugee Convention (that is binding on the Cyprus Republic), call for cooperation between the Governments and the UNHCR.
During that period, UNHCR Representation in Cyprus was heavily concentrated in supporting the efforts of the GoC to develop an asylum system and an asylum space in Cyprus. Since 1998 till 2002 UNHCR simultaneously undertook Refugee Status Determination (RSD), resettled the recognized refugees in other countries, assisted in the drafting of the national refugee legislation, assisted in the configuration of the required institutions for its implementation, and trained such institutions.
In 2002 the GoC started undertaking RSD on its own. The first Refugee Law enacted in Parliament in 2000 has been amended in 2002, 2004, 2005 and 2007 by transposing the EU directives aiming at harmonising the asylum space in the EU along common minimum standards. UNHCR has closely advised in the process of transposing each of these directives through direct guidance to the drafters (being the Asylum Service or the Attorney General office), as well as in the process of amending laws that should include sections on refugees.
2002 - today
UNHCR Cyprus undertakes RSD training each time new Eligibility Officers (EO) are recruited at the Asylum Service (thereafter AS) and Reviewing Authority (thereafter RA –an independent body). In addition, it trains cadets in the Police Academy twice a year as well as refreshment sessions for immigration police once a year. Advice on individual cases and on-the-job training are also part of the UNHCR training activities.
UNHCR contributed to the development of the European Refugee Fund (ERF -managed by the Ministry of Interior) annual and multi-annual strategy for Cyprus and participated in the selection committee for ERF project awards in 2005 and 2006. In 2006, it undertook training to civil servants coming in contact with asylum seekers and refugees, and training to teachers on asylum as a human right in the context of a project on European citizenship.
UNHCR has closely advised the AS and the RA in particular towards sounding policy and practice towards applicants from Iraq and Palestine in light of the particular current circumstances.
UNHCR assisted in the transposition of the EU directive on the minimum standards for the reception conditions (transposed in December 2005), the transposition of the EU qualifications directive (transposed in July 2006), and is currently assisting in the transposition of the EU procedures directive. This process entails the provision of a written commentary on the draft law, coaching the drafters on every aspect of the draft, presenting views in the various sessions as called by the Parliament, providing written statements to the Parliament when these are necessary to complement the oral statements, conducting sessions with members of the committees as requested. Similar task has been performed in regards to other minor directives and amendments to national legislation related to asylum (such as the public allowance law and the legal aid law).
UNHCR assisted the GoC and the Red Cross in the negotiation with the asylum seekers demonstrating during May and June 2006 and the persons granted subsidiary protection (another form of international protection) demonstrating from February though September 2007 for an appropriate conclusion of the demonstrations.
UNHCR provides legal aid to well selected asylum applicants through a project undertaken by an NGO since legal aid does not exist in Cyprus for this sector at the moment. It also undertook a participatory assessment among refugees, persons granted subsidiary protection, and asylum seekers in November 2005. The participatory assessment was updated from June till September 2006 specifically on female refugees and asylum seekers.
UNHCR Representation in Cyprus undertook the following surveys: in the first quarter of 2006 on the use of lawyers by asylum seekers, from September till December on the quality of public allowance among those a/s and refugees who succeed in receiving it, from February through June 2007 on the enjoyment of public allowance and other entitlements by Iraqi refugees and persons granted subsidiary protection and in 2008 on the training needs of refugees and persons granted subsidiary protection.