Increasing numbers of asylum seekers facing challenges in Cyprus
Cyprus is currently receiving the most asylum applications per capita among the 28 EU Member States, with over 4,500 applications filed since the beginning of 2019 – a 140% increase since 2018. Furthermore, an additional 11,600 applications for asylum are still pending from previous years.
Based on recent data from the Cyprus Immigration Police, about 35 migrants enter the government-controlled area daily. These people are mostly of Syrian origin, as in previous years. However, increasing numbers of people of other nationalities are also arriving, mainly from the African continent.
Nowadays, migrants mostly arrive by air, rather than by boat. They fly over from Turkey to the Tymbou (Ercan) airport, which is operating illegally in the occupied part of Cyprus. Thereafter, they are systematically channelled through to the government-controlled area via the checkpoints. According to Cyprus Immigration Police statistics, the “Ledra Palace” checkpoint is the most common route to enter the government-controlled area.
The surge in arrivals is posing several challenges and revealing some of the gaps in the country’s inadequate asylum and reception systems. As soon as people enter the government-controlled area, they are transferred to the sole reception centre that operates in Cyprus, located in Kokkinotrimithia. They may stay there between 1 day and 2 weeks, while they undergo a health assessment and are registered and have their fingerprints are taken.
In this centre, people are accommodated in tents. The Cyprus Red Cross Society provides humanitarian assistance by distributing first response kits, which include clothing, footwear, and personal hygiene items. In addition, toys and other baby articles are provided to infants and children when necessary. Cyprus Red Cross Society staff and volunteers also promote the Restoring Family Links (RFL) service and the Refugee Buddy Mobile Application , as well as provide psychosocial support.
The only accommodation centre in Cyprus is in Kofinou (Larnaca district). It has reached its maximum capacity so most newly arrived asylum seekers who are not housed by government schemes are expected to find their own place to live,or have to rely on the solidarity of their communities. The allowances they receive are not enough to cover their basic needs, never mind pay for accommodation. Many new migrants are thus forced to live in undignified conditions. They run a high risk of becoming homeless, or of being subjected to human trafficking in order to survive.
When it comes to promoting the social inclusion and integration of asylum seekers and refugees in Cyprus, there is still a lot to be done. Language barriers and the restrictive government policies make it very difficult for people to enter the labour market. They might also face unequal access to social and legal services.
The Cyprus Red Cross Society has been working to support asylum seekers and refugees to find employment by offering career orientation and legal counselling, as well as vocational training to reinforce their skills, including regular workshops on topics such as job searching, IT skills or social media management. These efforts are part of the Employability and Social Integration of Refugees and Asylum Seekers (ESIRAS) project, EU Programme for Employment and Social Innovation (EaSI). In 7 European cities, ESIRAS aims to support the establishment and operation at municipal level of centers providing information and training to asylum seekers and refugees to facilitate their integration in society and the labour market.
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