Cyprus must rethink asylum policies, says MP

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A member of parliament is calling on Cyprus to rethink its policies on handling asylum seekers and stop hiding behind the excuse of a backlog in requests, while refusing to provide aid to people who are in dire need of international protection.

Following shocking details emerging about a pregnant Syrian refugee’s ordeal in Cyprus, Greens’ MP Alexandra Attalides urged the authorities to fast-track political asylum requests, facilitating refugees who are in urgent need.

She told the Financial Mirror that the large number of asylum requests that the Republic has before it, is being used “to justify pushbacks of mainly Syrian refugees, breaching international law.”

The case of Kawther Abdalaziz, a Syrian woman who gave birth in a state hospital a day after reaching the island on a refugee boat, was formally submitted to the House Human Rights committee.

MPs heard during the committee hearing this week that Abdalaziz was separated from her husband and two infants, aged one and three. They were sent back to Lebanon under Cypriot police escort on the basis of a controversial agreement between Beirut and Nicosia.

According to news reports and Attalides’ account of the event, the woman was taken to Famagusta General hospital and discharged the same night, only to end up at a fishing shelter in Paralimni where she spent the night sleeping in the open.

The next day the woman rushed to the Larnaca hospital where she gave birth, and later filed for political asylum and to be reunited with her family.

Interior Minister Nicos Nouris came under heavy fire from opposition parties, including Atttalides’ Greens.

She said that it was unacceptable that authorities resort to inhuman behaviour towards a pregnant refugee.

Nouris claimed that officers did not know that she had family on the boat, while arguing that “she does not have the right to be reunited with her family. What would happen if we reunited every asylum seeker with their families?”

“European immigration directives not only give rights to those who illegally attempt to enter European territory, but also give Member States the right to prevent these flows,” commented Nouris.

“What kind of state would we be if we did not have the right to stop these illegal flows, which operate and reach the Republic,” added the Minister.


Backlog dating years

The Greens’ MP responding to Nouris’ arguments, said that while authorities argue that the Republic cannot offer its hand in aid to refugees as it is up to its neck in asylum seekers, the vast majority are backlog cases dating years back.

“The backlog of asylum requests in 2020 was 18,995, with the majority of these cases dating years back,” said Attalides, adding that in 2020 the Republic had received another 7094 requests”.

She added that the backlog in 2019 was 17,171, with Cyprus having the lowest rate in examining asylum requests in the whole of the European Union.

“We need to stop hiding behind the statistics and speed up processes. We have so many unemployed young and educated people who could easily be trained to go through cases, fast tracking the sorting procedures before they go before a court,” said Attalides.

“We know the countries from which people are more likely to be in danger of being persecuted for their beliefs, or their lives are at risk. We know that people from Syria, Afghanistan, Myanmar and Sudan are more likely to be in real need of international protection,” she added.

The Greens MP said that authorities also need to fast track procedures for applications that are rejected, as if appealed it can take years before reaching courts, giving non-refugees the opportunity to abuse the system, remaining for several years on the island before being deported.

Attalides continued that action needs to be taken promptly as Cyprus is already drawing the attention of international bodies, coming down hard on the Republic for its alleged tactics of pushbacks.

The Greens’ MP referred to a letter sent to the government by the United Nations’ Special Rapporteur on the human rights of migrants, in which a number of ‘pushbacks’ carried out by the authorities were cited.

“Without prejudging the accuracy of the information received, we are deeply concerned about the alleged pushback at sea of migrants to Lebanon and Turkey by the Republic of Cyprus, which seem to occur repeatedly and are still ongoing,” said the letter.