The Council of Europe's Committee for the Prevention of Torture and Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CPT) has said that persons being returned to their countries were treated with respect by the Cypriot Police but highlighted the need for clear guidelines on the flight preparations and the boarding procedure.
The remark is included in a report concerning the committee’s ad hoc visits to Belgium carried out from 7 to 10 November and to Cyprus from 7 to 9 November 2022, in the context of a Frontex-supported return operation to the Democratic Republic of Congo, together with the responses of the Belgian and Cypriot authorities.
The two reports examine the treatment and conditions of detention of foreign nationals deprived of their liberty under immigration legislation and the safeguards afforded to them in the context of their removal. The CPT sent, for the first time, two delegations to observe the preparations and conduct of a joint return operation (JRO) by air from Belgium and Cyprus to the Democratic Republic of Congo that took place on 8 November 2022. The return flight was organized by Belgium, with the participation among others of Cyprus, and was supported by the European Border and Coast Guard Agency (Frontex).
In the report on the visit to Cyprus, the CPT found that the persons being returned were treated with respect by the Cypriot Police but highlighted the need for clear guidelines on the flight preparations and the boarding procedure, including as regards health-related issues.
It also became aware of allegations of ill-treatment after aborted removal attempts which took place in the months prior to the CPT’s visit. This requires that the Cypriot authorities take a proactive approach as regards the detection and prevention of ill-treatment, including the systematic medical screening of foreign nationals, upon their arrival at the immigration detention center and after an aborted removal attempt, as well as the documenting and reporting of medical evidence of ill-treatment.
The CPT also makes specific recommendations aimed at improving safeguards in the context of the preparation for removal, namely as regards the timely notification of the removal, access to a lawyer and a medical examination by a doctor before the removal, in the context of a “fit-to-fly” assessment.
The Cypriot authorities, in their response, provide information on the ongoing investigations carried out into the cases of alleged ill-treatment raised by the CPT.
The authorities also indicate the steps taken in relation to, among others, medical examinations, documenting and reporting of injuries, procedures for police escorts during forced and voluntary returns, the use of means of restraint, and the provision of interpretation services and training for escort officers.
Moreover, they indicate that, as a matter of public policy, no vulnerable persons are being detained in immigration detention, including unaccompanied minors or families with children.