Migrant rights group Kisa along with a number of other, international groups have called on the government to terminate its policy of refusing entry to migrants arriving by sea, introduced as a measure to slow the spread of coronavirus.
The migrant rights groups, in a joint statement, criticised both the Republic of Cyprus and the Turkish Cypriot side for the way they handled a group of 175 refugees who were denied entry by the government in March.
The migrants arrived by boat but authorities of the Republic of Cyprus did not allow them entry due to the coronavirus pandemic. The boat then went north, the statement said, capsized and the refugees were rescued by the Turkish Cypriots.
“Many of these refugees were trying to join their families already settled in the Republic of Cyprus, which is a member of the European Union,” the activists said.
They said that the refugees were housed in an apartment complex in the north for a 14-day quarantine period due to the Covid-19 pandemic but at the end of the quarantine period, they continued to be detained, “this time arbitrarily, in violation of the law of the ‘Turkish Cypriot administration’ which authorises the detention of irregular migrants for eight days extendable only by a court order.”
On May 15, the activists said, the Turkish Cypriot side “forcibly sent 100 Syrian refugees, including unaccompanied children, to Mersin, Turkey.” They have been transferred to Kilis, near the Syrian border, where they are now. They said 56 of the 100 Syrian refugees are children and women.
On April 24, the groups said, the Turkish Cypriots forcibly sent 75 people from that group, including unaccompanied children, to Mersin, Turkey, from where they have been reportedly moved to a camp in the province of Kahramanmaras.
“All 175 Syrian refugees have expressed their intent to apply for asylum and find protection in an EU member state,” the activists said, adding that they now face a risk of onward refoulement to Syria.
The group of activist organisations said the refusal of entry amounts to violation of the 1951 Geneva Convention and EU law on asylum, and infringes Article 3 of the European Convention on Human Rights. They also condemned the return of the refugees to Turkey and their arbitrary detention by the Turkish Cypriot side which was also in violation of the 1951 Refugee Convention and Article 3 of the European Convention on Human Rights.
“The detention of minors additionally violates the Convention on the Rights of the Child,” they said.
They called on the Republic of Cyprus to abide by EU and international obligations to respect the right to seek asylum and the principle of non-refoulement, and provide assistance to boats in distress at sea by carrying out search and rescue operations. They also called on the government to cooperate with the UN and the Turkish Cypriot side “with a view to allowing the asylum seekers access to territory under control of the Republic of Cyprus to apply for asylum and reunify with their families.”
They also ask that the government terminates the suspension of access to asylum by those arriving by sea in response to the Covid-19 pandemic.
Among the 24 signatories are Kisa, the European Association for the Defense of Human Rights, the Human Rights Association in Turkey, Euro-Med Rights, and the Arab Netowrk for Migrants’ Rights.