The interior ministry on Thursday hit back at Akel’s calls for the minister Nicos Nouris to resign following a report which slammed the “appalling” conditions faced by unaccompanied minors at the Pournara migrant reception centre.
The ministry, it said, was dealing with an increased flow of unaccompanied minors this year, while other services, especially the social welfare department, are also responsible for them.
Main opposition party Akel had called on the minister to resign after the children’s rights commissioner Despo Michaelidou observed there has been no substantial improvement for the children despite millions of euros of investment by the EU. An urgent House human rights committee has been called to discuss the issue on Monday.
“We call on the authorities to act immediately to end the situation gripping Pournara which offends anyone who considers themselves to be human,” Marina Savva of Akel said on Thursday.
In response, the interior ministry issued a statement later in the day, saying the officials at the ministry are “literally overextending themselves” to manage the situation amid unprecedented numbers of migrants.
After a visit to the camp on Wednesday, Michaelidou stated there are about 15 children per room, usually sharing beds, while others sleep on the floor – with about 300 people forced to share two toilets and a single shower. She also cited complaints that breakfasts consisted of little more than pieces of bread.
According to the ministry, Pournara can accommodate 100 underage children after new improvements.
However, due to the increased flows, the ministry said, additional spaces in other parts of the centre have been created to avoid children mixing with adults.
It said the number of minors arriving in the Republic in the two months of January-February 2021 was only 49, while in the same two months of this year this number tripled to 166.
At the same time, the asylum service, which has the responsibility for completing the examinations the applications of minors, had long ago completed the procedures for 214 out of the total of 356 currently residing in the centre.
The ministry said these children who remain at the centre should have been moved by the social welfare services.
The move has not taken place because suitable accommodation or families for adoption or fostering have not been found, the ministry said, explaining that this was not its responsibility.
Social welfare services are also in charge of the education of the children, after these are moved out of Pournara, which is a temporary reception centre, the ministry added.
It also rubbished claims regarding inadequate feeding and sanitary conditions, saying it provides three meals based on the recommendations of the higher hotel institute of Cyprus. There are six toilets and three showers where minors are staying, while those staying at the newly created areas are instructed to use the common facilities.
Responding to accusations by Akel who said the ministry might have been squandering EU provided funds to address the migration crisis, the interior ministry invited the party to visit the centre for minors which was created with the €3m granted over the past two years.
Regarding another four million euros to address the crisis, these “concern funds for the period from 1/2/2019 until 31/10/2020 to cover the costs of feeding and running of Pournara”, the ministry said.
Michaelidou’s report followed a protest on Tuesday by 30 unaccompanied minors over living conditions outside the centre, very close to the motorway.
She said on Thursday that there are still 30 or so minors refusing to stay in their allocated accommodation.
Akel later said it planned to send a team to visit Pournara on Friday at 10:30am, headed by MP Aristos Damianou.
Also on Thursday, ombudswoman Maria Lottides recommended for the immediate transfer of unaccompanied minors from Pournara in a report suggesting these children should not be deprived of their liberty nor should they be subjected to conditions which undermine their dignity and constitute inhuman treatment. Her report was submitted to the interior minister and deputy minister for social welfare Anastasia Anthousi.