The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) yesterday expressed concern over the negative findings of Amnesty International’s most recent report on Cyprus.
Amongst other things, Amnesty International accused the Cypriot immigration authorities of “routinely detaining 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 a statement yesterday, UNHCR said the issues raised by Amnesty International required “immediate resolution”.
UNHCR’s position is that seeking asylum is not an unlawful act and, as such, “the detention of asylum-seekers on account of their unauthorised entry or presence in the country of asylum should in principle be avoided and used only in exceptional circumstances”.
Detention may only be resorted to where it has been determined on a case-by-case basis that it is necessary, reasonable and proportionate to the legitimate objective, and alternatives to detention need to be considered first in each case, the UNHCR statement said.
It added: “Having fled violence and mistreatment in their country of origin, and experienced loss of family as well as traumatic events during flight, asylum-seekers may suffer from trauma, depression and other physical or psychological consequences, which detention has been shown to aggravate.
Asylum-seekers and refugees are therefore a potentially vulnerable population, and they are in need of understanding, support and fair treatment, not detention.”
Interior Minister Socrates Hasikos on Tuesday rejected the damning Amnesty International accusations against Cyprus, saying a press release on the international body’s report contained “inaccuracies and sweeping generalisations”.
He denied Cyprus was breaking the law and said Amnesty wasn’t interested in the government’s point of view.