Cypriot MPs have voiced strong criticism of conditions at the Pournara emergency shelter for migrants, west of Nicosia. Significant inter-community violence has already broken out in the overcrowded facility.
"MPs witnessed 12 children cramped in a container, sometimes without beds, blankets strewn on the floor, families with children as young as three years old, pregnant women," reports the CyprusMail.
Giorgos Koukoumas, a member of the main opposition party Akel, who took part in the visit, spoke of some 1,000 persons not having a bed to sleep on. Many have to make do in tents and on the floor, he reported.
"Clearly this vicious cycle must be broken, and the way to break it has to do with the major delays in processing [asylum] applications," he stated.
"We need to understand that while the Republic of Cyprus does not need to approve every single application, what we must do is examine the applications swiftly."
Cases of drug trafficking and prostitution were also reported to the MPs, who described the situation as "a ticking time bomb."
MP for the Akel party, Irini Charalambidou, warned of the consequences of the lack of schooling for minors at the center. "We need to find ways of integrating these children, make them healthy members of our society – we must not leave them without an education, which would surely lead to their ghettoization," said Charalambidou after speaking with some unaccompanied minors.
Rita Superman, MP from the ruling Disy party, said the center was a ‘thumbnail’ of the broader migration problem in Cyprus. Referring to ‘inhumane’ conditions at the centre, the MP said that from 600 people during the summer the number has since soared to thousands.
"They are individuals from war zones, but we also have people from countries without conflict, so we see people getting victimised by crooks promising them a better life, only for them to arrive here and become trapped," she said.
Many Congolese are said to travel to the Turkish area in northern Cyprus on student visas and then moved on to the south, a European Union member country. This group often flies to the north of Cyprus via Turkey, where they don’t even need a visa, explains the CyprusMail.
Giorgos Koukoumas called for the "vicious circle" of delays in processing asylum applications to be broken. "We need to understand that while the Republic of Cyprus does not need to approve every single application, what we must do is examine the applications swiftly."
The MP called for better integration of refugees so that they leave the Pournara center as soon as possible. But he also denounced the Dublin Regulation which, according to him "traps" asylum seekers in the first European country where they arrived, an opinion shared by the Green deputy, Alexandra Attalidou. "Instead of asking for funds from the EU, we should ask that it takes charge of repatriations and helps Cyprus. In other words, people who are not entitled [to asylum] should not burden the system at the expense of those who are entitled," she said.
The living conditions of the migrants in the Pournara camp have long been criticized, especially because they lead to violence.
In early December, seven people were injured in clashes involving some 300 people. In January 2021, violence between Syrian and African communities in the center had already left more than 20 people injured. According to the Twitter account @pournararefugee, run by a migrant living in the center, one person also died in the clashes.
A month later, migrants organized demonstrations in the camp to protest against living conditions.
In a letter sent last March to the Cypriot Minister of the Interior, the Council of Europe's Commissioner for Human Rights, Dunja Mijatovic, referred to "some observations and concerns related to the human rights of refugees, asylum seekers and migrants in Cyprus."
Mijatovic urged the Cypriot authorities to bring the reception conditions "in line with applicable human rights standards and ensure that asylum seekers and migrants enjoy effective access to all necessary services."