Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Cyprus: Punishment without a crime - Detention of migrants and asylum-seekers in Cyprus

Source: Amnesty

Detention of migrants and asylum-seekers in Cyprus

“They said… they will detain me for another six months and then let me go again for another three months. They think this is OK but it is not.” K, an Iranian migrant and mother of three children and whose asylum claim has been dismissed, speaking to Amnesty International in January 2012.

Amnesty International first met K. in Nicosia Central Prison where she had been detained for five months Every year, hundreds of people who flee to Cyprus to escape persecution, war or simply grinding poverty are put behind bars and detained as if they were criminals, even though they have committed no crime. Most are detained for months, often in poor conditions without access to adequate medical care and usually unable to challenge the lawfulness of their detention due to the paucity of free legal aid. In some cases, the Cypriot authorities refuse to free people even when the Supreme Court has ordered their release.

Some of those detained have made the difficult decision to flee their homes to find safety and are exercising their right to apply for asylum and be free from persecution. Pending a decision on their asylum application, they are in an extremely vulnerable position and should not be subject to immigration detention except in the most exceptional circumstances as prescribed by international and regional law and standards.

Irregular migrants too should not be subject to immigration detention and should only be detained if the detaining authorities can demonstrate that other measures short of detention – including reporting requirements or a surety/guarantor system – would not be sufficient, consistent with the right to liberty under international human rights law and standards. When the Cypriot authorities detain irregular migrants for immigration purposes without demonstrating that their detention is indeed necessary and that less restrictive measures are insufficient, they are also violating European Union (EU) law.
In the past, many Cypriots were migrants themselves and thousands rebuilt their lives abroad after becoming displaced during the war of 1974.

More recently, their country has become a destination for migrants and refugees, particularly after Cyprus joined the EU in 2004, many of whom end up in tough and low-paid jobs, including as agricultural and construction labourers and domestic workers. Cyprus is also a destination for trafficking of women for sexual exploitation.