By Constantinos Psillides
OMBUDSWOMAN Eliza Savvidou has added her voice to those asking for the release of a Sri Lankan woman being kept in the Menoyia Detention Centre awaiting deportation despite the fact she is married to a European citizen, has a three-year old son and is a key witness in a police brutality case.
In a report issued on Tuesday, Savvidou asks for the immediate release of the woman, arguing that her detention violates legislation regarding the incarceration of mothers with young children as well as legislation regarding witnesses in criminal cases.
According to immigrant support group KISA, the married couple were assaulted by a police officer in January 2013.
The woman – who has been living in Cyprus for 14 years – was pregnant at the time but lost the child days after she was hospitalised over the incident, said KISA.
According to KISA, on February 10 this year the husband and his brother were approached by police officers on the street who demanded explanations for his possession of a set of construction tools they noticed in his vehicle.
Police officers also asked to see licence and registration and proceeded to arrest them both, accusing them of using the construction tools for burglaries, according to KISA.
The man was taken to the police holding area in Lakatamia where he was visited on February 11 by his wife and child. KISA said police officers then arrested the mother in front of her three-year old boy. The woman was informed that she would be deported immediately as her marriage was deemed a sham by the immigration services.
The deportation order was rescinded at the last minute, after the intervention of the Independent Authority for the Investigation of Allegations and Complaints against the Police (IAIACAP), who was tasked with investigating the complaint of the woman. Both have since been in prison.
In her report, the Ombudswoman also took a jab at the Immigration Services, noting they ignored letters sent by both her office and IAIACAP, asking for the release of the woman.
Savvidou wrote the Immigration Services detained the woman based on a deportation order that was issued after her marriage was declared a sham. “The woman says that she wasn’t made aware of any such deportation order, a claim that seems valid since it is highly unlikely she would visit a police station if she knew she was to be deported,” said Savvidou, adding that she was surprised to learn that Immigration Services would consider her marriage a sham, since she had a child with the father.
“Even if the marriage was indeed a sham, before issuing the deportation order the Immigration Services should have considered the circumstances of the case, since she was in Cyprus for over 10 years, she has been integrated into the society and also has a family,” Savvidou wrote.
The Ombudswoman asked the Interior Minister to re-examine the status of the woman’s marriage, adding that if he is still convinced that it is a sham then alter the conditions of her detention so she can be with her child.
It should be noted that Immigration Services is currently under fire regarding their policy on detaining mothers of small children. After reports run in the press saying that this isn’t uncommon, Immigration Services issued a response saying that detaining immigrants who are awaiting deportation is an extreme measure and reserved only for cases were the immigrant refuses to cooperate with authorities.