By Andria Kades
Cyprus is expecting 509 migrants over the course of the next two years as part of its obligation under the EU distribution and relocation programme.
According to the interior ministry, authorities are now awaiting lists from Italy and Greece to know when the process – that was set to begin towards the end of October – will finally start.
Following the migrant crisis, spawned mainly by Syria’s civil war that has seen more than 750,000 migrants entering Europe so far this year, the quota plan to relocate 160,000 of them to various EU countries allocated 509 to Cyprus.
Of these, 69 will be resettling people who have been staying in refugee camps in countries outside the EU such as Lebanon and Jordan, UNHCR spokeswoman Emilia Strovolidou said.
The remaining figure would be migrants who had already arrived in Greece and Italy.
The 509 are separate from the other migrants that have arrived in Cyprus since the recent crisis began. These include the 114 who landed at the British base at Akrotiri on October 21 and the 26 who were rescued off the coast of Famagusta a few weeks later.
When they reach Cyprus, they will remain in Kofinou reception centre for asylum seekers, the interior ministry said. The facility near Larnaca has the capacity to accommodate 409 people buteven if there are free beds in a room occupied by a family, single people would not be allocated there for privacy reasons.
Strovolidou says the Kofinou centre is full at present, but the interior ministry said the 509 asylum seekers will be arriving in batches and not as one group.
The possibility of a shortage for available accommodation first surfaced at a House human rights committee meeting at the end of September when MPs were told 276 people were already staying in the Kofinou asylum centre. This number has since risen.
Chairman Sofoclis Fyttis told the Sunday Mail last week that the matter had yet to be resolved. “When I asked the minister [of interior] I did not get a sufficient response. I was told that if there is an increase in the number of migrants we would find a solution.”
The interior ministry however says that the number of asylum seekers living in Kofinou changes every day as it is a temporary facility and stressed that the 509 individuals would be arriving over the course of two years.
“We will help them find a residence to live in, suitable for their needs,” which will vary depending on whether they are a single mother, a complete family, individuals and so forth,” an interior ministry spokesperson said.
In order to be assisted however the individuals will have to apply for asylum raising, another contested issue.
In Cyprus it is notoriously difficult to be granted refugee status which allows successful asylum-seekers to work and live freely.
Last year for instance, only three per cent of asylum-seekers were granted refugee status. The first half of 2015 saw the figure rise to 10 per cent.
In 2014, 56 per cent of applicants were granted subsidiary protection, a kind of second-tier international protection with fewer rights than refugees. The rest were rejected outright.
Almost none of the rejections were Syrians.
Most Syrians and Palestinians receive subsidiary protection, Strovolidou said while refugee status is granted when applicants can prove they face individual persecution either for their political beliefs or sexual preference for instance. Subsidiary protection is granted to people that face ‘general violence’ which means fleeing from a war zone.
Most European countries make little distinction between the two. But in 2014, Cyprus amended its laws so that those who are granted subsidiary protection are not able to bring family members to Cyprus from their home countries or other nations to which they’d escaped – known as the right to family reunification – or to travel freely outside Cyprus. Subsidiary protection also comes with very limited work opportunities – which mean those who get it can’t support themselves – and does not protect people from expulsion.
As far as the 509 are concerned, Strovolidou believes the Syrians should be granted refugee status as they do face individual prosecution from all the parties implicated in the war whether they be government or opposition forces and advocates that the laws surrounding subsidiary protection should be changed.
Seeing as the war in Syria has being going on for almost five years now “without hope of resolution, these people should not be continued to be deprived of their families”.
Migrants also shun Cyprus because it is not yet part of the Schengen Area, the EU’s passport-free zone. Visitors to the country need a visa to get to the rest of Europe. But because most refugees do not have valid passports, they can’t get visas.