By Stefanos Evripidou
THE HOUSE Human Rights Committee yesterday slammed the government’s policy of separating migrant mothers from their children for the purposes of detaining them until deportation.
Following a visit of the committee to the under-fire migration detention centre in Menoyia yesterday, its members came out arguing in no case should a mother be separated from her children.
Committee chairman Sofoclis Fyttis said the aim of the visit was to look at the cases of mothers who were separated from their children and detained at Menoyia until their deportation order could be executed.
There are currently 124 people at Menoyia, 24 women, not all mothers.
Amnesty International recently released a scathing report on Cyprus’ treatment of migrants, arguing there could be no excuse for separating a woman who has committed no crime from her children.
“The treatment of migrants in Cyprus at the moment is degrading and unnecessary,” the report said.
On Thursday, following increasing public exposure, the interior ministry issued an order releasing three mothers who were separated from their children- the youngest 18 months old- from detention at Menoyia.
The ministry said the women’s deportation would be postponed, following cooperation with the authorities to facilitate their departure from Cyprus.
Authorities have not provided an official reason for their detention but it is possible they are held because their marriages were deemed fake by the Immigration Services.
The ministry insists detaining irregular migrants and parents in particular for deportation purposes is used as a last resort after exhausting all other avenues to have them return voluntarily.
Since January 2013, the state has issued 5,369 deportation or detention orders with “only 39” involving mothers.
In most cases, the issue was not only illegal entry or residence, but participation in criminal offences like impersonation, fake marriage, prostitution, etc, for which charges would be suspended in view of deportation, said the ministry.
Fyttis yesterday called on the Republic to “better coordinate its services” so that conditions could improve in the case where parents with minors are detained.
“Today we were told that there is space in Menoyia for a new building to house families,” he said.
The committee called on the interior minister to meet with the Ombudswoman and Child Commissioner to find alternative solutions and ensure better planning, coordination and oversight, he said, adding that the parliamentary committee would discuss the issue again in two months to see what’s changed.
The Ombudswoman has already proposed alternative solutions in three reports that would ensure families are not divided, he said.
“This mess that exists needs to end.”
AKEL MP Stella Misiaouli said separating a mother and child until deportation created huge problems for the family but mainly for the psychology of the child.
“What came out of today’s discussion is that there is no coordination between the services. This coordination should be taking place from the first stage of issuing an arrest, detention and deportation order.”
Citing international conventions signed and adopted by Cyprus, Misiaouli argued that in no case should a child be separated from their mother, adding, “Breaking families apart is forbidden.”
EDEK MP Roula Mavronicola said: “It appears this is a rather big problem.”
“We were told that the authorities arrest women and separate them from their children on a daily basis, until they can sort out their papers,” she added.
MP Stella Kyriakidou from the ruling DISY party issued a statement yesterday welcoming the three women’s release, noting that separating minors from their mothers violates the rights of the child as stipulated in national and international law.