The House human rights committee on Monday discussed the increasing numbers of unaccompanied minors arriving in Cyprus from warzones, and measures that should be done to protect them from exploitation and help them integrate in society.
Social Welfare Minister Anastasia Anthousi told the committee that 545 asylum applications were made by unaccompanied minors in 2021, increasing tenfold since 2014 when there were only 54.
In addition, she said that Pournara migrant reception centre currently hosts 250 minors, mostly 16 and 17-year-olds. Most are boys and arrive in Cyprus unaccompanied, mainly from Somalia, Congo and Syria.
She added that with the creation of her deputy ministry, the government has committed to protecting the rights of children, especially the ones in need of the social services’ help, such as unaccompanied migrant children.
“It is our responsibility to support them and give them prospects and hope for another day.”
Despite the rising numbers, Anthousi said positives include the government’s close cooperation with NGOs, subsidies, Hope for Children and the formation of the semi-governmental Children’s Home which supports and empowers minors until they come of age.
However, she added that the need for further coordination with other services, such as the police, the education ministry and the children’s rights commissioner’s office has become apparent.
Committee chair Irini Charalambidou expressed a similar view, saying that this issue requires cooperation across the board, involving all relevant parties.
She also highlighted some specific issues facing underage girls, such as human trafficking, adding that some come to Cyprus to marry their compatriots, which is illegal as they are minors.
Charalambidou added that the committee touched on the issue of female genital mutilation, saying that medical and mental health professionals have had to receive training on managing such cases.
“Everyone involved has come to the conclusion that the best way to help these children integrate and become healthy members of society is through helping them enter the education system, so they can learn both the language and a trade through technical schools.”
Both Charalambidou and Disy’s Rita Superman relayed the children’s right’s commissioner’s disappointment over not being informed on such matters on time, highlighting the lack of consistent cooperation across different services.
Superman added that there are some problems with enrolling some of the minors in the education ministry’s special programmes as many are closer to adulthood than childhood, also suggesting that officials should pay closer attention to adults trying to pass off as minors.
At the same time, she told reporters the committee has been informed of potential child exploitation as some children are not allowed to attend their classes, with people waiting outside their school to take them to work.
Charalambidou said the committee visited children in the education ministry’s programme, where 81 are currently enrolled, and added there are also plans to visit Pournara.