The government is to make refugees who are granted asylum in Cyprus wait a full five years before allowing them access to the guaranteed minimum income, according to a bill submitted to the House Labour Committee.

The bill was submitted by the social welfare deputy ministry and foresees the implementation of the same five-year residence requirement which currently applies to Cypriot citizens and economic migrants who may wish to apply for the guaranteed minimum income.

It has caused concern among the United Nations, as the UN’s High Commissioner for Refugees spokeswoman in Cyprus told the Cyprus Mail on Wednesday.

She pointed out that the bill put forth by the social welfare deputy ministry does have a built in “back door”, with an emergency protection mechanism written into the law which allows for people to apply for the guaranteed minimum income should they find themselves in exceptional circumstances.

However, as she explained, refugees arriving in Cyprus often by definition find themselves in exceptional circumstances.

“These people who arrive on the island without even the most basic of necessities will be in need of financial assistance even after they have their asylum claims accepted, and this bill may therefore render all refugees reliant on the emergency protection mechanism,” she said.

“When an asylum seeker arrives in Cyprus, they are first prohibited from working on the island for nine months. If their claim takes more than nine months to process, they then may begin to look for work, but the idea that a refugee who has their asylum claim accepted will be ready with a job immediately simply does not correlate with reality for many people,” she added.

For this reason, she said, the number of people applying for the emergency protection mechanism will increase and thus create a bottleneck in the system, as civil servants who assess those claims end up backlogged by emergency requests from refugees and others who find themselves in need of it.

“This may therefore result in an increase in the number of people being placed at risk of destitution, and the bottleneck in the emergency procedure will result in a delay in access for all,” she said.

While the UN expressed concerns about the bill’s consequences, Elam expressed their satisfaction, with MP Sotiris Ioannou saying he believes the bill’s passing would make the system fairer.

“Until today, Cypriot and European citizens were not entitled to the minimum guaranteed income for their first five years of continuous residence in Cyprus, unlike individuals who arrived here illegal and had the status of refugee and thus protection from the first day,” he said.

He added that the bill “brings about equality, since it removes the exception” for refugees.