The UN refugee agency (UNHCR) said on Wednesday that it is “alarmed” by the safety of 31 migrants trapped in Cyprus’ buffer zone, after two weeks of migrants being forced to stay there and being denied procedures to apply for asylum.

Out of the 31 individuals, seven are children, the agency said.

Commenting on the situation since being stuck there, the UNHCR said five individuals had entered the Pournara reception centre to apply for asylum, and immediately taken back to the buffer zone.

Out of the five, two have gone missing since being returned to the buffer zone, with one of the individuals being an unaccompanied child from Syria.

UNHCR added that others require medical and psychological attention.

According to the announcement, despite being provided with food, water, clothing, and basic facilities by the United Nations Peacekeeping Force in Cyprus (Unficyp) with UNHCR’s support, those in the buffer zone are living in precarious conditions in tents exposed to extreme temperatures exceeding 40 degrees C in recent days.

“Although Cyprus has offered emergency medical care in the state hospital, police have returned the individuals to the buffer zone following discharge,” the UNHCR said.

The regional director for Europe of the agency Philippe Leclerc said: “This situation requires urgent action. As we have underlined in communications with the government of the Republic of Cyprus, ensuring effective access to asylum procedures and adequate reception conditions is an obligation under international refugee law. The European Commission has also reiterated that the Republic of Cyprus must apply and enforce all aspects of the EU acquis.”

Leclerc emphasised that these obligations must be applied in the areas of Cyprus where the government of the Republic of Cyprus can enforce its legislation, including the buffer zone.

This incident, the UNHCR also noted, occurs amidst actions that are shrinking the protection space in Cyprus, including new measures by the government affecting Syrian refugees and asylum-seekers, such as suspending the processing of their asylum applications since mid-April.

This measure has reportedly impacted more than 14,000 Syrian asylum seekers, the announcement said.

UNHCR also added that it has witnessed the “resumption of arrests, sometimes involving force, of asylum-seekers attempting to submit subsequent applications, aiming to subject them to return proceedings.” 

Furthermore, it is added, recent months have seen multiple reports of interceptions and “subsequent pushbacks of boats carrying asylum-seekers attempting to reach Cypriot shores.”

UNHCR said it acknowledges the challenges Cyprus faces with new arrivals and stands ready to provide additional support to ensure the fundamental human rights of asylum seekers and refugees are respected.

“We are committed to working with the government and other stakeholders to find sustainable solutions that uphold our shared responsibility to protect those fleeing conflict and persecution. We have long reiterated that Cyprus as well as other States on the EU external border, should not be left alone. Continued EU resources, solidarity and responsibility-sharing are needed to boost Cyprus’ response capacity,” added Leclerc.