The conference ”Refugee Crisis: Developments and the situation in Cyprus” took place on the 16th of November at the EU House in Nicosia. The conference was organized by Future Worlds Center under the auspices of the Embassy of the Federal Republic of Germany in Cyprus.
There was a large and diverse attendance that stimulated the discussion and enabled valuable outcomes to be obtained by the presentations and the discussions.
In his address, Counselor of the German Embassy Peter Neven said that this year Germany expects to receive up to one million refugees, which is 40% of the number of refugees entering the EU. He also said that this flow is expected to continue for some years and that we are witnessing the rise of anti-refugee movements, noting that the answer is more and not less Europe. Germany believes in a truly European asylum service and the harmonization of standards regrading reception.
Head of the European Commission representation in Cyprus, Giorgos Markopouliotis, said that the European Commission has increased the funds for the refugee crisis by 1.7 billion. euros. He added that in total, the Commission will allocate 9.2 billion for 2015 and 2016. He noted that the refugee crisis is not a national problem but must be addressed at a European level.
Head of the European Parliament Office in Cyprus, Andreas Kettis, said that the right to asylum is at the heart of the European culture and civilization, adding that after the terrorist attacks in Paris this right has to be strengthened and the EU has to rise to the challenge.
In her speech, Corina Drousiotou, Head of the Humanitarian Affairs Unit of the FWC, said that the Unit has been very active in the area of asylum, offering assistance, both legal and social, to asylum seekers and persons under international protection, while trying to promote and implement legislation, policies and practices. She said that in the past year there have been very positive developments with the percentage of recognition. Whereas in 2013-2014 the percentage of recognition was 4 per cent, in the first six months of 2015, this went up to 73.12 per cent by the asylum service and 53 per cent by the refugee reviewing authority.
Drousiotou also said that the number of refugees receiving the recognised refugee status instead of subsidiary protection went up from 4 per cent to approximately 11 per cent. As far as the reception conditions are concerned, in the recent year the Reception Centre at Kofinou has reached its capacity for the first time since it was expanded. However, it has been experiencing a number of issues since it runs on skeleton staff and has practical problems. A number of asylum seekers remain outside the center, she said, in difficult conditions, and the organisation has never received information from the authorities as to why such a small number are actually on a social support scheme, adding that this is inadequate and is not able to cover their basic needs especially those with families and children.
Future Worlds Centre’s Social Advisor, Manos Mathioudakis, said that despite the low numbers, it is estimated that refugee flows to the island will increase, noting that “from September 2014 we see that they can include simultaneous and unexpected arrival by sea of dozens of people.” He added that, because this is a clear refugee crisis, a significant number of applicants are expected to receive a positive response to their request for international protection, which is a long-term situation. Mathioudakis said that this is what the Republic of Cyprus is called to handle, relying on a system for receiving refugees and integrating them into society that has serious flaws and weaknesses. He warned that if these problems are not dealt with, it will be impossible to ensure a decent living on the basis of assessment of personal needs of an individual and providing meaningful integration opportunities with the aim of social cohesion.
Loukas Hadjimichael, Deputy Commander of Civil Defense, presented the role and mission of Civil Defense, which involves 33 persons but a large number of volunteers.
Asylum Service officer Laura Iacovidou said that Navkratis programme (which refers to the mass arrival of persons in Cyprus seeking protection) has been involved in four rescue operations, the first on September 5, 2014 in Limassol with 345 people, the second in Larnaca on September 6, 2014 with 115 persons, the third on October 10, 2015 in Paralimni with 13 individuals, and the last on November 3 in Famagusta concerning 26 persons. She also referred to the case of 114 refugees who arrived at the British Bases on October 21.
According to the programme, once refugees arrive, first they are registered and then housed temporarily at Kokkinotrimithia. They are then transferred to the Asylum Seekers Accommodation Centre in Kofinou, while unaccompanied minors are taken to Children’s Shelters. In the first rescue case, she said, only 107 people applied for asylum, in the second 105, the third concerned 12 persons, while the fourth is still an ongoing process.
Commissioner for the Rights of Children Leda Koursoumpa said that the children are in the center of the tragedy since according to Save the Children 5,6 million children are in need of assistance due to the war in Syria. Ms Koursoumpa noted that there are short comings in the management of this vulnerable group in Cyprus, especially the unaccompanied minors and outlined the situation of this particular group that faces problems and challenges and awaits for more support.
Olga Komiti from UNHCR analysed what were the main legal developments of the past two years regarding the asylum procedures in Cyprus and what the future strategies for all the involved organizations should be.
Kallia Kampanella from Ombudsman’s Office also expressed worries about the situation and the general administrative running of Kofinou Reception Center describing it as ‘ not the best possible’ . Moreover she stated that European countries need to find ways in order to effectively combat racism.
The last to talk was Nasiya Mohamed from Somalia. Being a recognised refugee herself, Nasiya outlined the challenges and difficulties that she is facing in Cyprus on a daily basis. Her speech was very heart-breaking as well as inspiring. She explained the different hardships that she faced when she arrived in Cyprus and how she got arrested at the airport and remained in prison for two months. She said her mother taught her to be strong and so she is not giving up. Although she is nineteen years old she wants to go to school, to learn, so she can become someone important in the future. Her big complaint was that she still didn’t make any friends in Cyprus, and she feels that Cypriot Society is not ready to accept, assimilate or integrate refugees into society.
The conference was organized in the context of the project ”Improvement of the situation of Asylum Seekers in Cyprus” which is funded by the Embassy of the Federal Republic of Germany in Cyprus.
We would like to thank all attendants and participants for their important contribution.