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Huge challenges to creation of deputy ministry for migration (Updated)

File Photo: The Pournara reception centre

Significant legal and staffing challenges are slowing down the creation of a deputy ministry for migration, which has been deemed an important move for Cyprus given the huge uptick in arrivals of asylum seekers over the past decade, MPs heard on Thursday.

The house interior committee, which discussed the issue on Thursday heard that there were a slew of problems.

Speaking after the meeting attended by representatives from the interior ministry that proposed the creation of the new deputy ministry and representatives from the attorney-general’s office, committee head and Akel MP Aristos Damianou said there werealso  a number of problems in the way the bill has been drawn up.

He had raised similar concerns in a letter to Interior Minister Constantinos Ioannou, saying that there were legal issues with the creation of the ministry.

After the meeting, he said that they would continue to discuss the bill in two weeks time and he hoped that by the January they would be able to send it to plenary for a vote.

“I want to believe that the [state] agencies and ministries involved receive the messages and political positions that we submit as parliamentary parties and as members of parliament in an effort to enrich the bill, which I must say, at the moment, faces significant challenges,” he said.

Disy MP Nikos Sykas also highlighted that despite the fact his party supported the creation of a deputy ministry for migration and asylum, there were “a lot of outstanding issues that we will need to discuss”.

Earlier, a letter that was published from Damianou to Ioannou referred to not only legal challenges but also to issues of staffing, which were mentioned in notes by public servants’ union Pasydy and a memo from the welfare services.

Damianou said that MPs had requested the ministry provide the legal background based on which the executive power decides on the establishment of deputy ministries. There are already a number of deputy ministries including tourism, shipping and welfare.

Attaching a copy of the proposed bill, Damianou said: “I am referring to the above bill [on the establishment of the deputy ministry of immigration and asylum] which is being studied by the house interior committee and I would like you to inform us in writing, as soon as possible, whether an opinion has been requested from the attorney-general regarding the legality of the establishment and the mode of operation of deputy ministries in the Republic, either during the drafting of the bill in question or at an earlier stage, during the drafting of bills with a similar purpose.”

He added that if such an opinion exists it should be sent to the committee, as the issue of legality for the proposed deputy ministry was raised at a session in October.

Meanwhile, the Institute of Demographic and Immigration Policy, which in recent years has been dealing with the effects of migration in Cyprus, submitted proposals for amendments to the bill.

According to the president of the Institute, Andreas Morphitis, it is a necessity to introduce a provision in the bill by which the civil registry and migration department and the port police would be transferred to the new deputy ministry.

“Following the standards of other European countries, but also taking into account that the only operational arm, both for deportations and for the protection of the Republic’s external borders, is the police, its inclusion under the new deputy ministry is necessary,” Morphitis told daily Politis.

Meanwhile, Pasydy raised several issues with the proposed ministry as most of the employees of the civil registry office are on contract and not permanent. Under the proposal for the ministry the civil registry department would be transferred to the deputy ministry.

The union said that the employees at the department are mostly new hires, who are just out of university. It proposed that the staff need to be more specialised, and positions will need to be created for permanent specialist staff.

“We believe that due to the current situation with migration flows and taking into account the general irregular situation in our neighbouring countries, the asylum service should be staffed with organisational positions and the issue of its structure should be immediately revisited so that it is able to implement its difficult task,” Pasydy said.

Complaining that the structure and staffing of the asylum service was approved by the parliament about two years ago, the union said however that until today the said service still does not have a structure.

“The usual tactic of seconding employees from other ministries/departments finds us diametrically opposed, especially if in this case the secondments are planned to be made by the social welfare services. It is an indisputable reality that in this service the number of officers is insufficient to cover existing service needs, resulting in an excessive workload,” the union said.

In the statement from Pasydy, there is also a statement from the social welfare department employees, who have said that they will not accept others from the department being seconded to the proposed ministry, aside from the ones that are already serving at the asylum service as part of EU programmes.

Aside from the proposed deputy ministry, the committee will also be discussing an issue raised by the Disy MPs, who want to be informed further about the government’s plans to establish centres for the protection of teen migrants.

The Disy MPs Nikos Georgiou and Nikos Syka have said that the government is being secretive about the matter, causing people in areas rumoured to be pegged for establishing the teen migrant centres to protest, as is the case in Yermasoyia and Zygi.

 

 

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