The state Legal Service has recruited 24 lawyers who will be handling asylum cases in a bid to speed up procedures, it was announced on Monday.

The lawyers and five support staff were hired on one-year contracts with a grant from the European Union as part of the bloc’s asylum and migration fund emergency assistance, which covered 90 per cent of the project with around €1.1m.

The project is considered of special importance for the Republic since it aims at faster processing of a large number of asylum applications pending before courts.

According to UNHCR, 19,153 applications were still pending at the end of November last year. During the same time, Cypriot authorities granted protection status to 1,616 people – 137 recognised as refugees and 1,479 were given subsidiary protection – and rejected 1,870 people.

Of the pending applications, 4,280 were from people who came from war-torn Syria, UNHCR said. Cyprus granted protection to 1,358 people from Syria – 23 were recognised as refugees and 1,337 were granted subsidiary protection. Two people were rejected.