NICOSIA - Interior Minister Socrates Hasikos on Tuesday rejected damning Amnesty International accusations against Cyprus, saying a press release on the international body’s report contained “inaccuracies and sweeping generalisations”.
Amnesty International said: “Cypriot immigration authorities routinely detain hundreds of migrants and asylum-seekers in prison-like conditions for extended periods while awaiting deportation.”
Those detained include Syrian refugees and women separated from their young children, according to the international body.
Amnesty International said that evidence gathered by researchers during a recent visit to Cyprus indicates that the authorities “are exploiting European Union (EU) laws - imposing automatic detention of migrants and asylum-seekers without implementing the required safeguards, which make detention a last resort”.
It said the practice was also a breach of international law.
In statement Hasikos responded to the claims saying they were “one-sided and unsubstantiated” adding that they included “inaccuracies and generalisations about immigration issues and international protection in Cyprus”.
“Comments made by Amnesty International are based almost entirely on information which the representatives of the organisation selectively gathered from complaints of NGOs during their visit, ignoring the explanations given by the government,” said Hasikos.
The Ministry, he said, categorically rejects that there is detention for purposes of deportation of recognised refugees.
He explained that despite the fact that the law allows deportation of recognised refugees in exceptional cases and under certain conditions, the law was actually applied in only one case, some time ago.
Head of Refugee and Migrants’ Rights at Amnesty International, Sherif Elsayed-Ali, said that “by detaining scores of people for months at a time, Cyprus is displaying a chilling lack of compassion and a complete disregard for its international obligations”.
According to Amnesty International, in at least two cases, women detained were forcibly separated from their young children. One was a baby just 19 months old, the other aged three. The children were handed over to social services.
“Both women said the separation had had devastating effects on their children,” Amnesty International said.
At least one person at the Menoyia detention centre, the main immigration detention facility in Cyprus, had been held for 22 consecutive months while awaiting deportation. Under EU law, the maximum detention period on immigration grounds is 18 months.
“The Menoyia centre is a prison in all but name. Behind a double metal fence several metres high, detainees are forced to live in cramped conditions and are only allowed outside the building for 2.5 hours each day,” said Elsayed-Ali.
During a visit earlier this month, Amnesty said it found nine Syrian refugees were among those held at Menoyia, including at least one who had applied for asylum.
“It is incomprehensible that the Cypriot authorities are detaining Syrian nationals in Menoyia when it is Cyprus’ official policy not to return Syrians to Syria,” said Elsayed-Ali.
“We can only conclude that the detention of Syrian nationals is intended to send a message to other Syrians that they are not welcome in Cyprus.”