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UNHCR calls for immediate resolution of asylum problems

The UN High Commission for Refugees on Wednesday called for the immediate resolution of the problems concerning migrants and asylum seekers, highlighted in a damning report by Amnesty International.

“The administrative detention of asylum-seekers as presented in the new Amnesty International report on Cyprus, published yesterday (Tuesday), has been of concern to UNHCR and requires immediate resolution,” the organisation said in a press release.

On Tuesday, Amnesty said Cypriot immigration authorities routinely detained hundreds of migrants and asylum-seekers in prison-like conditions for extended periods while awaiting deportation.

UNHCR said seeking asylum was not an unlawful act and, as such, the detention of asylum-seekers on account of their unauthorised entry or presence in the country of asylum should in principle be avoided and used only in exceptional circumstances.

“Detention may only be resorted to where it has been determined on a case-by-case basis that it is necessary, reasonable and proportionate to the legitimate objective, and alternatives to detention need to be considered first in each case,” UNHCR said.

Evidence gathered by Amnesty International researchers during a recent visit to Cyprus indicated that the authorities were exploiting EU laws – imposing automatic detention of migrants and asylum-seekers without implementing the required safeguards, which make detention a last resort. The practice is also a breach of international law.

Interior Minister Socratis Hasikos rejected the findings as being full of “inaccuracies and sweeping generalisations.”

Hasikos said they were based entirely on information Amnesty’s representatives had “selectively gathered” from complaints lodged by NGOs while ignoring explanations given by the government.

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.

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