According to Eurostat’s records, Cyprus had the highest number of first-time asylum applicants in Europe (relative to population) during the second quarter of 2018. The number of asylum applications in the first eight months have exceeded 4,500, marking an increase of 55% from 2017.
The growing needs of the increasing asylum seeking population continue to be insufficiently tackled by the state. The vast majority of applicants are unable to secure shelter at the Kofinou Reception and Accommodation Centre, and are instead dispersed throughout the island.
Data gathering is crucial to gain an understanding of their situation once they submit asylum applications. Currently, no statistics are available as to where applicants live, under which conditions, or whether they depend on social welfare benefits. Only the most basic data is recorded regarding the employment status of asylum seekers, who are by law limited to work in specific, usually unskilled, sectors that do not necessarily match their background or skillset: agriculture, animal husbandry, fishery, manufacturing, waste management, wholesale trade, repairs, as well as food delivery and cleaning services.
Unsurprisingly, homelessness has become an issue of increasing severity for asylum seekers in Cyprus, as Kofinou has reached capacity and private housing is simply unaffordable on the current rent allowance provided. Families with young children, and even the disabled are forced into dire circumstances, such as sleeping in public spaces (churches, parks) or being temporarily housed in small, overcrowded flats by relatives, friends or strangers. Hygiene facilities tend to be insufficient, and disability-friendly spaces are rarely available. According to UNHCR Cyprus, the situation has been aggravated by the fact that single asylum seekers are no longer admitted at Kofinou, which in any case only has the capacity to house less than 5% of the asylum seekers in the country. These conditions are in direct violation of asylum seekers’ human rights, the most important being the right to an adequate living standard. It is also in contravention of the provisions of Article 21(1) of the Refugee Law, which sets out the national legislation on this matter.
Research conducted as part of the GLIMER project, in a soon to be published report, titled “Accommodation, Regeneration and Exclusion in Cyprus”, has revealed further worrying data. Families are exploited financially, and there have been several cases of women who were asked to sell their bodies in return for a sofa to sleep on. Rather than being proactive, the state has created conditions that are pushing women into prostitution or making them vulnerable to being trafficked. At the same time existing victims of trafficking are in danger of being re-trafficked due to the financially and socially disadvantaged positions in which they are placed.