Cyprus Mail

UNHCR regrets lowering protection standards for refugees

The situation in Syria means Cyprus could host EU and other nationals forced to evacuate

THE Cyprus Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) on Wednesday expressed concern about new changes in the refugee legislation that curtail essential rights of forcibly displaced people who have sought sanctuary in Cyprus.

“We are disappointed that Cyprus has lowered its standards when it comes to the protection of persons fleeing war and generalised violence,” said Damtew Dessalegne, the UNHCR Representative in Cyprus.

It said the new law takes away family reunification rights and protection against expulsion from persons granted subsidiary protection instead of refugee status.

“These are people compelled to leave or remain outside their home country on account of threats to their lives or freedom resulting from armed conflicts or generalised violence,” the UNHCR said.

The UNHCR considers that the humanitarian needs of persons benefiting from subsidiary protection are not different from those of refugees. It said the convergence of the two protection statuses was one of the objectives and outcomes of the reformed EU legislation adopted in December 2011 after long and complex negotiations.

Most recently, the European Commission has also issued specific guidelines on family reunification requiring member states to grant similar rights and entitlements to refugees and beneficiaries of subsidiary protection, it said.

The UNHCR said the new refugee law also restricts the rights of refugees to enjoy family life in two ways.  Firstly, only refugees who had their family relationships formed prior to their entry to Cyprus can enjoy this right. Secondly, they must submit their application for family reunification within three months after the granting of their refugee status.

“Both of these limitations do not sufficiently take into account the specific situation of refugees, and may prove to be a serious obstacle to family reunification,” said the UNHCR.

“International protection is first and foremost about meeting the needs of vulnerable and threatened individuals and families who had to flee persecution, torture, generalised violence or the breakdown of law and order,” added Dessalegne.

“It is about affording them the opportunity to live a safe and dignified life. Too often we run the risk of losing sight of this when we debate refugee legislation and policy,” he added.

The UNHCR said that during the deliberations on the issue at the House Interior Committee, they had made a detailed written submission explaining the need to revise certain aspects of the proposed legislation in order to ensure its full conformity with international protection principles and best practices as the body mandated by the United Nations General Assembly to provide international protection and to supervise governments’ compliance with the relevant legal instruments for the protection of refugees.

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