Cyprus Mail

Court ruling on women refugees could open door to mass compensation

Ombudswoman Eliza Savvidou

By Evie Andreou

THE state should consider compensating people that could have received refugee benefits if discriminatory treatment had not been in place, the lawyer of the daughter of a Cypriot refugee woman awarded €40,000 in damages by the European Court of Human Rights said on Wednesday.

Christoforos Christofi’s client, 35-year-old Maria Vrountou, had sued the Cyprus government in 2006 when it denied her refugee status, which came with a range of benefits – including housing assistance. Until 2013, when the law was amended, refugee status was reserved only for children of men displaced during the invasion.

In 2003, Vrountou had applied to the migration authorities for a refugee card as her mother had been displaced from Skylloura, but her request was rejected on the basis that she could not be considered a displaced person because, while her mother was a displaced person, her father was not.

The complaint to the ECHR followed the appeal she had filed to the Supreme Court, which was denied on the grounds that the court had no jurisdiction to rule on the merits of the case. The ECHR ruled that her rights had been violated by the Cyprus government.

In addition to complaining about the authorities’ refusal to grant her a refugee card, Vrountou also alleged that denying her a refugee card on the basis that she had been the child of a displaced woman rather than a displaced man had been discriminatory on the grounds of gender and that no authority in Cyprus, including the courts, had examined the merits of her complaint.

The ECHR awarded Vrountou €29,000 in pecuniary damages, €4,000 in non-pecuniary damages, and €6,981 in legal costs and expenses.

“Every citizen has the opportunity to be vindicated in the end,” Christofi told the Cyprus News Agency, adding that it has taken his client 13 years.

Christofi also said that at the moment, there are 50 more similar cases pending against the Cyprus government at the ECHR.

Commenting on whether the decision of the ECHR is retroactive, he said that it “probably creates rights just because the ECHR ruled that the infringement took place in 2003”.

“My personal opinion is that based on the decision, the state has an obligation to examine the possibility of compensating persons who would be beneficiaries had there been no discriminatory treatment,” he said.

In the case of his client, Christofi said, the ECHR found a violation of her human rights in two points.

“First, the right to equal treatment as she received different treatment based on gender… and secondly, the ECHR found a violation of the right to an effective remedy, because Cyprus courts considered that the issue was of such a nature that they had no jurisdiction to decide and rule whether there was a violation,” he said.

He added that the ECHR rejected all arguments given by the Republic of Cyprus to justify its specific policy.

Christofi said that the ECHR’s decision is very important as it ruled that the right of appeal was also violated, “which thus imposes an obligation on public bodies such as courts, to do justice and provide effective treatment to victims of human rights violations”.

The interior ministry said in an announcement that it expected full information from the Legal Service, as regards the “parameters and any other legal consequences of the judgement of the ECHR”.

It added that it was on the initiative of Interior Minister Socratis Hasikos that the Cabinet approved in June 2013 the right of children of female refuges to be treated equally as those of male refugees.

The Administration and Human Rights Commissioner Eliza Savvidou, also welcomed the ruling of the ECHR, and said in an announcement that the ruling confirms and reinforces the position she held since 2006, on the need to harmonise the process of obtaining refugee status based on with the principles of equality and non-discrimination.

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