By Constantinos Psillides
INTERIOR Minister Socratis Hasikos on Tuesday described damning accusations by Amnesty International on the island’s ‘ruthless’ treatment of migrants as full of “inaccuracies and sweeping generalisations”.
On Monday, Amnesty said Cyprus showed a “ruthless and chilling” lack of compassion towards migrants, exploits EU law to hold migrants beyond the 18-month limit, routinely jails mothers and separates them from their children, and detains hundreds of political refugees.
Alternatives to detention were available but seldom offered, the organisation said. Instead, deportation orders are issued at the same time as detention orders without considering alternatives.
In a lengthy written statement Tuesday, Hasikos said the contents of the Amnesty release were based entirely on information its representatives had “selectively gathered” during their visit from the complaints from NGOs while ignoring explanations given by the government side.
His ministry, he said, categorically rejected that detention for deportation of recognised refugees was being carried out despite the fact that it is allowed in exceptional cases and under certain conditions. He said the law was applied like this in only one instance some time ago.
“Obviously, Amnesty International representatives are referring to Syrian prisoners in Menoyia whose deportation was incidental to their convictions for a criminal offence,” said Hasikos. Hasikos accused Amnesty representatives of mistakenly assuming that a number of Syrians held at the Menoyia centre were political refugees.
Even in that situation, no one was being deported to Syria due to the unstable situation there and the authorities were looking at deporting them to other countries where they might have family.
On the accusation that Cyprus routinely separates mothers from children, Hasikos said this only happened in exceptional cases.
However there were at least two such cases already this year where women detained were forcibly separated from their young children. One was a baby just 19 months old, the other was aged three. The children were handed over to social services. One of the women had been held for four weeks.
Hasikos also rejected the accusation that Cyprus implemented a routine policy of detention for the purpose of deporting asylum seekers.
“This only applies to a small number of cases where such foreigners are already prohibited immigrants usually because they’ve been convicted of a criminal offence,” he said.
“If the application is justified on the grounds of international protection or humanitarian reasons, the person is granted all of the rights recognised by the law,” he added.
The minister said he would make further comments once Amnesty issued a full report.