By Annette Chrysostomou
Out of all EU countries, Cyprus ranked 10th in the number of applications – almost 2,000 – it received for international protection, last year, according to the Annual Report on the Situation of Asylum in the European Union issued by the European Asylum Support Office.
“The increase in asylum seekers, largely due to the ongoing crisis in Syria, has posed a key challenge in the EU”, said the report, adding that
“2014 marked the highest level of applicants for international protection recorded in the EU since EU-level data collection began, with 662,680”. Overall, in 2014 there were approximately 128,000 Syrian applicants for international protection, a 143 per cent increase compared to 2013 when Syria became the main country of origin of asylum in EU countries.
Given the size of the country, the number of asylum seekers in Cyprus is significant. In order to cope with the influx the European Asylum Support Office (EASO) and Cyprus signed a Special Support Plan on June 5, 2014, providing for EASO support until July 1, 2015.
“The implementation of the first measure of the plan, aiming at the provision of support in the field of reception and open accommodation, started in July 2014, with a needs assessment on the operation and management of the expanded Reception Centre for Asylum Seekers in Kofinou. In December 2014, the measure was continued with the draft of Standard Operating Procedures as well as the provision of practical on-the-job advice. In addition, training was provided in the field of age assessment”, the report noted.
Cyprus continued with an initial screening process on new applications for international protection submitted before the Asylum Service in order to identify unfounded applications and prioritise their examination, thus reducing the time to examine them to a minimum.
As well, the law on legal aid in Cyprus was changed as of July 2014 to extend free legal assistance to applicants who were granted only subsidiary protection but sought refugee status. Previously, free legal assistance was provided only to persons whose application for asylum or refugee status was rejected or withdrawn.
Cyprus also has a problem with the vulnerable groups such a unaccompanied minors seeking asylum. A sharp increase in the numbers was noted in the last quarter of 2013 and beginning of 2014, a children’s shelter ‘Home for Hope’ was opened in July 2014 in Nicosia, with a capacity to host 24 unaccompanied minors.
Concerns were still noted by UNHCR regarding access by children to legal representation during the asylum process, application of the best interest of the child principle and age assessment. Pending draft legislation seeks to overcome those difficulties.