UNHCR wants migrant camp decongested

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UNHCR said the Pournara migrant reception centre in Kokkinotrimithia needs to be decongested to prevent more violent outbreaks at the overcrowded facility.

The UN agency also acknowledges the challenges faced by the Cyprus Republic due to the additional challenges created by the increased flows of irregular migrants.

UNHCR Cyprus Representative Katja Saha spoke to the Cyprus News Agency following clashes between refugees and asylum seekers and the police on Monday.

She said that the UNHCR is saddened and concerned that the riot broke out resulting in injuries to asylum-seekers and damage to buildings.

While investigations are ongoing to the causes of the riot, the UNHCR called for the need to decongest the 1,000-capacity centre, which is currently operating in overcrowded conditions with 1,500 people staying mainly in tents, some of them for long periods.

“Overcrowded conditions at the centre and the ensuing pressure on the existing infrastructure,  in conjunction with the uncertainty regarding when and under what conditions they would be able to exit the centre often triggers tensions,” Saha said.

According to Saha, residents at the camp have complained about lacking essential items for dignified living, such as warm clothing and personal hygiene products.

While volunteers have gathered such items to support the centre, the items have not yet been distributed, according to the information received by volunteer groups and the residents.

“UNHCR acknowledges the challenges faced by the Republic stemming from the increase of asylum applications over the years.

“However, decongestion of the centres as well as alternative accommodation can be identified to ensure that people asking asylum from war or persecution, including unaccompanied children… are living in safe and dignified conditions while their claims are adjudicated.

“It is to be noted that if there are no exits from Pournara, it will not be possible to accommodate new arrivals.”

Pounara lacks the space and the infrastructure to host 1,500 people as it was created only to receive asylum seekers for the first days to perform the necessary medical checks and to register.

“Lack of housing solutions had already created delays in leaving the centre, and now due to the pandemic asylum seekers are not allowed out, even if they have completed the quarantine and found private accommodation.”

Saha said Cyprus needs further support and solidarity to face the additional challenges created by the increasing mixed flows in recent years.

“UNHCR fully supports Cyprus in its efforts to quickly return rejected asylum seekers to their countries of origin, while ensuring the scarce resources are used to cover the reception and integration needs of those who come to Cyprus to flee wars and persecution.”

She said that 250 camp beds and 50 Refugee housing units were among the items that were delivered towards the end of 2020 to Pournara.

More than two dozen migrants were injured during a large brawl between nationals from Syria and several African countries at the overcrowded migrant reception camp.

Windows were shattered, beds and other equipment smashed and a section of the camp’s fencing sustained extensive damage as a result of the seven-hour melee that was quelled after riot police intervened. (source CNA)