Cyprus needs to improve its policies and infrastructure in order to be more humane when accommodating migrant refugees, President Nicos Anastasiades said after visiting the Pournara camp on the western outskirts of Nicosia on Monday.
While admitting that there are clear shortages in an overpopulated receptions centre, Anastasiades tried to deflect the criticism aimed at his administration in recent weeks, over what officials say are appalling conditions, especially for families and unaccompanied children.
On Friday, opposition AKEL demanded that Interior Minister Nicos Nouris steps down “for not fulfilling the ministry’s humanitarian obligation,” echoed by the Green Party, which noted that children’s rights should be respected regardless of their origin.
The opposition’s reaction follows two damning reports from the Commissioner for Children’s Rights, Despo Michaelidou, and Ombudswoman Maria Stylianou Lottides.
Last Thursday, Michaelidou said she had instructed authorities to improve the living conditions of minors at the overcrowded camp without any action being taken.
She said she was told by these children that for breakfast, they are given a small piece of bread without anything to drink.
“In the afternoon, they are given a small bottle of water to last them the whole day”.
President Anastasiades said, “it is not just a piece of bread. You saw with your own eyes,” he told reporters and TV cameras accompanying him during his visit.
“The drink is not enough and it is incomprehensible that there should be no drink. In my view this is a serious shortcoming. We will review it and deal with it.”
Anastasiades said that, “the first impression is the tragedy which these people face, who have been taken advantage of or are seeking better living conditions than their home country.”
“At the same time, the tragedy facing this country is that 5% of the island’s population are now comprised of asylum seekers.”
Highest per capita
The president said that Cyprus is at the top of the list of per capita asylum applications.
“It is natural that efforts are being made to face these problems, without this meaning that problems have been resolved or are not being faced.”
“It would be better to focus on how to solve these problems, how to deal with the crisis created from the flow (of migrants), rather than dealing with everyone’s criticism.”
He said that a number of unaccompanied minors have been moved to another centre, “and we need to see how to the underage population is decongested.”
“At the same time, there are procedures that need to be followed.”
Last week, Children’s Rights Commissioner Michaelidou said living conditions at the centre were “appalling and unhygienic.”
“Each room is shared by 15 people, with two people sharing one bed, while some children have to sleep on blankets on the floor.”
She added that 300 children have to share two toilets and one shower.
Michaelidou intervened after 30 children left the camp in protest on Wednesday night because promises given by authorities that they would be moved had not been kept.
On Friday, the Ombudswoman issued a report, pointing out that Pournara centre is overpopulated.
There is no running hot water, sewerage systems malfunction due to overcrowding, and there are insufficient quarantine areas for people found positive to COVID-19.
“All these have an impact on the residents’ mental and physical health.”
AKEL asked the government to justify why no action had been taken despite being given EUR 4 mln by the EU to improve the Pournara centre and 3 mln to create a reception centre for unaccompanied minors.
It called on those responsible “to take immediate action to end the appalling situation that prevails in Pournara, which is an offence to humanity”.