COVID19: UNHCR welcomes improved living conditions for asylum seekers

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The UNHCR office in Cyprus is pleased that steps have been taken to improve the living conditions of asylum seekers and hopes other measures will be introduced due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Cyprus News Agency interviewed the UNHCR Representative in Cyprus, Katja Saha who visited the Kokkinotrimithia reception centre to talk with asylum seekers and hear their concerns.

Cyprus’ Ombudsman published measures that need to be taken by the authorities to tackle the spread of the disease.

Saha told CNA that a handful of asylum-seekers at Kokkinotrimithia and Kofinou centres developed COVID-19 symptoms, tests were conducted and were negative.

“No mass testing has taken place and to the best of our information there are currently no plans for mass testing at the centres,” Saha said.

She said for refugees and subsidiary protection beneficiaries who are outside the centres and develop symptoms, the same protocols are presumably applied as in the case for Cypriots.

“However, this is not the case for asylum-seekers who are not eligible to register with the General Health Scheme and as such, they have no personal doctor to consult if symptoms persist.

There have been instances where asylum-seekers with symptoms were referred to the Emergency Units of the General Hospitals by the hotline operator and not by a doctor, as required by the protocols.”

Saha pointed out that national public health should include refugees, asylum-seekers and address the particular risks affecting them.

UNHCR Cyprus remains in daily contact with the competent authorities and NGOs operating at the centres.

At Kokkinotrimithia reception centre Saha was pleased that steps were taken to improve the living conditions of asylum seekers, namely the installation of additional sanitation facilities, including more mobile showers and sinks with running water, and enhanced lighting of the camp.

“UNHCR was also informed that food distribution points will increase in an effort to ease long queues and improve social distancing in common areas at the camp.

UNHCR also appreciates the Ministry of Interior’s confirmation that some 800 asylum seekers in hostels will not be transferred to the crowded camp.”

The UNHCR remains concerned that Kokkinotrimithia was turned into a closed centre with some 600 asylum-seekers are staying in a tent camp, many for more than two months.

“During the visit to the camp, the residents shared many health-related concerns and called for improved healthcare.”

Unaccompanied children are also not allowed to move out of their shelters.

“Persons deprived of their liberty should receive comprehensive information, in a language they understand, about any such measures.

We also continue to receive reports about asylum-seekers not being able to submit their applications for asylum.”

“Asylum claims can also be processed remotely where health restrictions prohibit face-to-face interviews.

Other protection measures, such as automatically extending registration cards or residency permits to enable refugees and asylum seekers to access health and other services, can also be adopted.”

Saha underlined that UNHCR Cyprus remains ready to discuss ways to address the pending issues and concerns to further ensure the equal and adequate protection of asylum seekers during the pandemic. (source CNA)