Fear of Authorities and Deportation - a great source of concern among asylum seekers and refugees in Cyprus

September 2007
Nicosia – A report, based on a gender and diversity participatory assessment conducted by UNHCR Representation in Cyprus during the months of July and August 2006, unveiled that asylum seekers and refugees are afraid of authorities and deportation.

The aim of the report was to unveil and understand the issues that female asylum seekers and refugees face in Cyprus, an exercise that must be periodically undertaken in all countries where UNHCR operates. Although the participatory assessment focused on the issues faced by female asylum seekers and refugees, it transpired that the same issues had been pertinent to male asylum seekers and refugees as well.

The fear of authorities and deportation is particularly important because of its multiple implications. Due to an immense fear of ‘getting deported by immigration police’, many asylum seekers had felt reluctant and nervous about submitting any kind of application – such as an application to enjoy any of their rights set out in the refugee legislation, e.g. to apply for social welfare, or a change of address form.

The 1951 Refugee Convention, which as any other international instrument imposes an obligation on States to take appropriate steps to ensure the implementation of the rights enshrined therein, provides first and foremost that refugees should not be sent to a country where their life or freedom would be threatened. Moreover, refugees by virtue of the Convention are entitled to the same rights as nationals with respect to certain social rights, such as public relief and assistance, education, labour legislation and social security. Asylum seekers have been recognised to be entitled to some of the rights provided by the Convention, because every asylum seeker is a potential refugee.

Cyprus refugee legislation after incorporating the Refugee Convention and the EU legislation relating to asylum provide that neither a refugee nor an asylum seeker should be returned to a country where life or freedom is threatened. As regards social rights, the national legislation provides that asylum seeker have the right to work (limited however in practice to the sectors of agriculture and animal husbandry), the right to public allowance if they don’t have sufficient means to ensure a standard of living adequate for their health and subsistence, the right to have access to public educational facilities and the right to free medical treatment if there are no sufficient means.

Interviewees felt that in Cyprus ‘random’ deportations have occurred several times before. This fear has grown to such a level that people have started devising “plans” when going to any immigration-related office so that they are not found defenceless.

Some women interviewees said that because of such a fear they would refuse to even leave their house for any, except for extremely important reason.

Another concern was that even refugees who have lived in Cyprus for more than seven years and were thus allowed to apply for citizenship were afraid to do so, again for fear of refusal and deportation. According to the Convention, the States that have ratified the Convention should facilitate the assimilation and naturalisation of refugees and they shall in particular make every effort to expedite naturalisation proceedings.

With regards to the police in Cyprus, the women interviewees were afraid to approach the police because, according to their statements, in most cases the police refused to help them at all, especially when they wanted to file a complaint. Women were particularly afraid to approach the police because several of them had husbands or brothers in detention centers/prison in Cyprus for ‘immigration’ reasons, and they were afraid that they would be arrested as well.

Interviewees were also frustrated at what was felt by them as the discrimination and abuse they had to endure from the employees of governmental departments (asylum, welfare and labour offices, and hospitals). Accounts were given of being yelled at, being made to wait half of, or even the full day to speak with a welfare officer or to see a doctor, being told things like “you don’t belong here, go back to your country”, or “go away and never come back”, “you are not a Cypriot and you have no rights”, and “it’s only a matter of time…” (Meaning: “before deportation)

For the purposes of this participatory assessment, 50 female asylum seekers and refugees identified at random were interviewed about their experiences in Cyprus, despite the fact that many more had been contacted for participation in the survey. The reluctance of the majority to participate in the survey was due to a variety of reasons, such as their apprehension that the interviews would negatively affect their applications, or that their participation would ultimately not benefit them in any way.

The report was shared with governmental departments in February 2007.

What transpired once more from this report is the gap between theory and practice and the pressing need to achieve consistency between the rights that asylum seekers are granted by law and their entitlements in practice.

In that respect, UNHCR would like to encourage the Government to ensure that the information leaflets regarding the rights of asylum seekers as well as refugees (provided by the national legislation) are disseminated more effectively and in a more strategic manner. The Reception Conditions of Asylum Seekers Regulations of 2005 provide that the Asylum Service should issue and disseminate to the places where asylum applications are submitted an information letter by which the asylum seekers are informed of their rights, the procedures that need to be followed in order to access their rights, the organisations that are assisting refugees, as well as the obligations of asylum seekers. In addition, the new amending refugee legislation provides that persons granted international protection (i.e. refugees, persons with subsidiary protection or humanitarian status) should be informed regarding their rights and obligations.

Apart from the information printout, UNHCR would also like to encourage the Government to introduce induction courses for asylum seekers, refugees and persons granted subsidiary protection, so that they are acquainted with their rights, the procedures, local language, key issues of Cypriot society and culture. Such an initiative would ultimately be conducive in creating a relationship of trust between the two ends.

Information leaflets could also serve the public officers dealing with asylum seekers as well as prospective employers. The numerous complaints UNHCR has been receiving regarding the behaviour of public officials indicate the need for further training with a view to be more cultural and gender sensitive when dealing with this vulnerable group of people. Lastly but not least, effective supervision is required in order to ensure strict adherence to the legal obligations.

For further information on these topics, please contact:

Emilia Strovolidou, Public Information Officer, e-mail:

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