Friday, 16 February 2007
Nicosia – The Representation of the UN Refugee Agency would like to express its concerns over the situation of the asylum seekers and refugees residing in the SBAAs in Dhekelia (Richmond Village), further to the protest that started yesterday. UNHCR calls upon the parties involved in the protection of these persons to adhere to their obligations towards them, as these are stipulated in the Refugee Convention of 1951 in general and in particular, in the Memorandum of Understanding signed between the Republic of Cyprus (ROC) and the United Kingdom.
It has come to our knowledge that around 100 persons protested yesterday about the contents of the letter (dated 13 February) that the SBA administration sent to some 62 asylum seekers and refugees residing at the Richmond Village of Dhekelia SBA. The letter requested them among other things to vacate the property in Richmond Village by 31st May 2007. They were also sent a letter of confirmation, issued by the Republic of Cyprus, advising them that their applications for asylum had been received and that this confirmation letter would also serve as a temporary residence permit, through which they could have access to certain rights in the Republic of Cyprus. They were further advised to contact the Republic authorities in order to make arrangements to receive these benefits and that social and welfare benefits made by the SBA would cease on 26 February 2007.
In February 2003, the Government of Cyprus and the United Kingdom signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) concerning Illegal Migrants and Asylum-Seekers, which has been published in the Official Gazette of the Republic. As foreseen in the MOU, its provisions came into effect upon Cyprus’ accession to the European Union, on 1 May 2004. Under the MOU, an asylum seeker who enters Cyprus directly through the Sovereign Base Areas will be the responsibility of the UK through the SBA Administration. Any asylum-seeker in the SBA who first entered the island of Cyprus other than by the SBA will be transferred to the authorities of the Republic of Cyprus.
As regards the examination of the asylum applications of the asylum-seekers arriving directly in the SBA, the Memorandum stipulates that this will be carried out by administrative bodies competent for the examination of asylum applications in the Republic of Cyprus (i.e. the Asylum Service and the Reviewing Authority), under the relevant SBA legislation and on behalf of the SBA Administration. For those asylum seekers who did not arrive directly in the SBA, the Government of Cyprus is responsible for them and thus responsible for examining their application. Thus, consideration of the asylum claims of the SBA asylum seekers can only be carried out by the competent authorities of the ROC and not by the SBA.
Moreover, under the MOU asylum seekers and refugees are allowed to stay in the SBA if they decide to do so. In addition, under the MOU the SBA has the overall responsibility to provide refugees and asylum seekers who entered directly in the SBA with adequate standards of living and shall make sure that they do have effective access to their social rights in the RoC.
As regards those asylum seekers and refugees who are not the responsibility of the Republic of Cyprus, the MOU provides that the Republic of Cyprus is to be compensated for the costs incurred (i.e. for the examination of the cases and for granting access to the rights of the asylum seekers and refugees).
For asylum seekers and refugees who are the responsibility of the SBA they need to be registered with the ROC so that their cases are to be examined by the ROC and/or to be able to have access to their rights at the ROC.
Currently there are three groups of asylum seekers and refugees residing at the SBA. Namely, one group of persons who are the responsibility of the SBA and their asylum applications have not been examined yet, one group of people who are the responsibility of the SBA, they are recognized refugees and not registered with the Republic of Cyprus and a third group who are the responsibility of the ROC.
In October 2006, the Asylum Service of the Republic of Cyprus, the Administration of the SBA and UNHCR had a meeting with individuals from all the groups in order to clarify the issues pertaining to the future of these persons. During this meeting the officials from both parties (i.e. Republic of Cyprus and SBAs) assured them that they would live up to the stipulations of the memorandum. In other words, that the Republic of Cyprus would upon registration allow them access to the procedure and access to their rights and that the SBA would not move them out of the SBA upon their registration with the RoC.
The letter of the SBA was addressed to all the persons of concern, without addressing the different issues pertaining to each group. The letter did not include any information towards the recognized refugees who, under the MOU, would qualify for resettlement to any country willing to accept them and who had been informed about this option during the meeting of October 2006. Moreover, the confirmation letters of the RoC sent to the individuals who have already been recognized as refugees, has led to confusion, because according to our information, the Asylum Service had already issued them letters confirming that they are refugees (thus enabling them to access their social rights) and that there is no intention to re-assess their status.
We are calling the SBA to reassure the individuals that the contents of the letters do not contradict the obligations of the SBA as they emanate from the MOU, which were also reiterated at meeting held in October 2006. In addition, the cutting of welfare benefits without ensuring effective access of these rights in the Republic of Cyprus (e.g. that they will be made in a timely manner) would seriously jeopardize the well-being of these people.
For further information, please contact:
Emilia Strovolidou, Public Information Officer, e-mail: email@example.com
UNHCR Representation in Cyprus
PO Box 21642
Tel: 22 359057,Fax:22 359037