Officials at Pournara migrant camp are scrambling to find more space to host asylum seekers, after it emerged that more than half of detainees at the Nicosia facility are under quarantine due to coronavirus measures.
According to local media, migration officials met on Monday in order to discuss issues involving an apparent lack of space at the Pournara migrant facility in Kokkinotrimithia, rural Nicosia.
Reports said the migrant camp, which was formerly used as a Temporary Accommodation Centre for refugees, was overcrowded recently due to more asylum seekers being transferred and detained there but also as newcomers were being quarantined upon arring on the island and being admitted to the facility.
According to Philenews, senior government official Maria Koutsoumba-Chrysomila this week said the migration office was seeking solutions to an overcrowding problem as newly-admitted asylum seekers are required to wait in isolation until their coronavirus test results come back negative.
In mid-July, the health ministry issued an executive order mandating that all persons in state custody being transferred to prisons or detention facilities, including asylum seekers, were to be tested for the coronavirus prior to their admission into a facility.
Koutsoumba-Chrysomila, a senior tourism administrator who joined the Migration department on a three-year assignment, said the problem was exacerbated due to recent arrivals of refugees but also migrants.
The senior administrator said 61 Syrian refugees arrived at the camp on Monday, including 45 men, 3 women, and 13 children, all of whom had been admitted under quarantine at the Pournara facility.
Officials have identified additional space within the premises of the camp, saying either detachable prefab homes or tents were being considered
According to the senior official, there were 245 quarantined individuals in designated areas within Pournara, while there were 134 persons staying at the main facility.
Philenews also reported that officials have identified additional space within the premises of the camp, with Koutsoumba-Chrysomila saying either detachable prefab homes or tents were being considered.
There are currently six quarantine areas but they are filling up quickly, as persons assigned to those spaces must remain there for 14 days, except those who test positive for the coronavirus who are transferred immediately at another quarantine facility.
A number of refugees held at Pournara camp have tested positive recently, all of whom were transferred to quarantine facilities in other locations.
Authorities were criticized earlier this year for carrying out policies under which asylum applicants were being picked up from their places of residence or other locations and transferred back into the migrant camp, which was originally designed to host asylum seekers for a maximum of 72 hours for initial checks and processing.
But Interior Minister Nikos Nouris defended the policy, saying back in March that “if you don’t have asylum applicants confined somewhere, and if their applications are turned down, unfortunately you cannot locate them.”
Nouris, who has been criticized for taking a tough stance on migration, later clarified that the state would not send back those whose lives may be in danger.
Earlier this summer, the minister said the government was pushing for stricter legislation to combat abuse of the migration system.
But some critics said some government-sponsored bills included proposals that would cut down on the time of procedural due process, such as allowing for appeals in rejected asylum cases.
Due process for court appeals is protected in the Constitution, but the minister said long delays were defeating the purpose of dealing with large numbers of applicants.
Nouris has said that another camp will be begin operations in September, adjacent to Larnaca’s Menoyia detention facility, where asylum applicants will remain until the adjudication of their case.