Asylum seekers Access to Public Allowance

Tuesday 29 May 2007
UNHCR Survey
Legal framework
The right of everyone to an adequate standard of living is recognised by international, regional and EU instruments on human rights. At the same time these instruments impose an obligation on States to take appropriate steps to ensure the realisation of this right.
The 1951 Refugee Convention provides that refugees are entitled to the same rights as nationals with respect to public relief and assistance. Asylum seekers have been recognised to be entitled to benefits provided by the Convention, because every asylum seeker is a potential refugee.
Cyprus refugee legislation after transposing the EU Reception Conditions Directive provides that asylum seekers have the right to public allowance if they don’t have sufficient means to ensure a standard of living adequate for their health and subsistence. Thus, if an asylum seeker is working no public allowance will be granted. In practice however, asylum seekers are allowed to work exclusively in the sectors of agriculture and animal production; yet, they are not referred to these sectors and as a result, public allowance is the only means available to ensure a dignified life for them.

Aim of the survey
In view of the above, UNHCR Cyprus conducted a survey among the asylum seekers who receive social welfare in order to analyse the problems that they have encountered in receiving the assistance to which they were entitled. Thus, the aim of the survey is NOT about finding how many asylum seekers applied and actually received public allowance.

Despite the fact that it was outside the scope of this survey, it transpired that many people who applied at the Social Welfare for the public assistance, they had given up because they were told to leave and to look for a job, while the Labour office could not provide them with any job.

Approximately 100 asylum seekers, residing in Nicosia, Limassol, Larnaca and Paphos, were interviewed by UNHCR during the months of September and October 2006. If one takes into account the small number of asylum seekers who have been reported to receive social welfare during 2005 (less than 400), then 100 people are more than enough to give a representative picture on this issue.

The survey revealed the following:
1. Long delays in the processing of the applications for public allowance.
There are delays as regards the home visits conducted by the welfare officers. Under the legislation, a welfare officer in assessing the needs of an applicant for public allowance will need to conduct a home visit to the applicant. These visits may be conducted one month after the application, or it may take up to three months or even more and in the meantime no public allowance payment is made.
· 62, 1% of visits from Officers from Social Welfare Department to assess the needs take place within one month after their application.
· 25,9% of the visits happen between one and three months after their application
· 12, 1% over three months.

2. Long delays in the payments
First payment
- There were long delays to have a first payment, and then delays in receiving payments regularly. Several asylum seekers had not been receiving the allowance for three months and more. UNHCR suggested intervening on their behalf, but only less than half of them agreed to give their names because they feared reprisals from government officers.
· 23,9% of interviewees received their first allowance within 1 month after their application,
· 18,3% between 1-2 months,
· 19,7% between 2-3 months,
· 18,3% between 3-4 months, and
· 19, 7% over 4 months.

Subsequent payments
- After the first payment, payments are not made at a fix date. Considering all cities, 77, 5% of interviewees do not receive the payment at a fix date monthly, while in Limassol, only 23% of them have such problem. This severely affects their living standards as they are not in a position to meet their ongoing basic needs (food, bills pending, rent cannot be paid, etc) .
- Considering all cities 78, 9% of interviewees face delays of payment; most of them are one or two months delays, but sometimes delays go up to five months. In Limassol, only 15, 4% of interviewees face delays. Only if asylum seekers continue to go and complain will they eventually have their check really sent to them.
- Among the asylum seekers who are receiving public allowance, as regards the number of visits that had to make to the Social Welfare Department before receiving payment, the picture is as follows:
· 15,3% of interviewees received payment (cash) the 1st time they went to the Welfare Office;
· 18,6% the 2nd time;
· 32,2% after between 3-5 times;
· 15,3% after 6-10 times;
· 8, 5% after 11-20 times; and finally 10, 2% over 20 times.
- 47, 6% of interviewees experienced interruptions, knowing that 70% of them are not sure whether there are long delays or interruptions as such. In Limassol, only 10% of interviewees faced interruptions. In a large majority of cases, delays or interruptions take place without any reason.

3. Discrepancies regarding the amount of welfare allowance

- The amount of payment varies from a month to another and this results to uncertainty.

- 64, 9% of interviewees do not understand what the total amount of the check represents, one reason being that checks are explained in Greek and another that for 73, 1% of interviewees, there was no explanation of how the total amount is calculated
- 72, 7% of interviewees find the amount insufficient to meet basic needs, while 14, 3% find it just, okay or sufficient. 100% of interviewees find that it has been insufficient to buy certain things.

4. Accommodation – Where do the asylum seekers stay upon their arrival to Cyprus?

The majority of the a/s interviewed finds private accommodation through people they meet casually. The Social Welfare Department assisted only one asylum seeker in securing private accommodation. In particular –

41% of the asylum seekers interviewed, stayed at the place of people they had met casually,
22,3 % stayed in the streets/park,
17% at a church/mosque,
9,6 % stayed in hotels,
6, 4% stayed with family.

For further information, please contact:

Emilia Strovolidou, Public Information Officer, e-mail:

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