The UN refugee agency on Wednesday accused Cyprus of failing to provide effective protection for displaced foreigners seeking sanctuary on the island.
A new law on refugees, published Tuesday, "curtailed essential rights of forcibly displaced people who have sought sanctuary," said the local office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.
"We are disappointed that Cyprus has lowered down its standards when it comes to the protection of persons fleeing war and generalised violence," said Damtew Dessalegne, the UNHCR representative in Cyprus.
He said in a statement that the changes in legislation would take away family reunification rights and protection against expulsion for persons granted "subsidiary protection" instead of refugee status.
"These are people compelled to leave or remain outside their home country on account of threats to their lives or freedom resulting from armed conflicts or generalised violence," Dessalegne said.
"It is about affording them the opportunity to live a safe and dignified life. Too often we run the risk of losing sight of this when we debate refugee legislation and policy," he added.
The UNHCR said the humanitarian needs of persons benefiting from subsidiary protection were no different than those of refugees.
"The European Commission has also issued specific guidelines on family reunification requiring member states to grant similar rights and entitlements to refugees and beneficiaries of subsidiary protection," said the UNHCR.
It said the new legislation restricted the rights of refugees to a family life in Cyprus, which as a haven of peace in a troubled region has had a tradition of taking in refugees such as during Lebanon's 1975-1990 civil war.
"Firstly, only refugees who had their family relationships formed prior to their entry to Cyprus can enjoy this right," the UNHCR said, pointing out the changes.
"Secondly, they must submit their application for family reunification within three months after the granting of their refugee status."
The UNHCR said these restrictions do not fully take into account the specific situation of refugees and may prove a "serious obstacle" to family reunification.
During discussions in the Cypriot parliament, the UNHCR said it had explained the need to revise certain aspects of the legislation "to ensure its full conformity with international protection principles and best practice".
Last month, Amnesty International accused Cyprus of breaking EU law by "shamefully" locking up migrants and asylum seekers for long stretches as they awaited deportation.
Nicosia rejected the charges as "unsubstantiated".