Asylum seekers living in the Pournara camp located at the outskirts of Nicosia staged a peaceful protest on Monday against the delays in the processing of their applications, as well as against the severe overcrowding and harsh conditions of life in the camp.
The asylum seekers demanded a quicker and more transparent registration process that would allow them to secure shelter outside the overcrowded camp, that is currently hosting some 1,500 residents despite its capacity for 1,000.
The Pournara camp was initially constructed as a reception centre that would host up to 350 newly arriving asylum seekers for a maximum of 72 hours, but with the outbreak of the pandemic, the camp was steadily turned into a closed centre as coronavirus-curbing decrees have prohibited residents from exiting the facilities. Some have been unable to leave for months.
A mass brawl along ethnic lines involving some 600 residents of the camp earlier this month raised alarms over the camp’s living conditions, leading the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) to call for an urgent decongestion of the camp, stressing that overcrowded and inadequate living conditions inevitably trigger tensions among residents.
“Those at the centre report that they are without [the] basic goods required for dignified living, such as warm clothes and personal hygiene products,” UNHCR’s Cyprus representative, Katja Saha, said earlier this month. Saha called for a streamlined and more efficient asylum process, which she said would better serve both Cyprus and the successful applicants themselves.
Mid-January also saw an announcement by the European Asylum Support Office (EASO) which said it would increase the number of personnel dispatched to Cyprus from last year’s 84 to 185 to support asylum and reception authorities.
The peaceful protest on Monday also called for immediate assistance to the some 60 unaccompanied children, families and individuals with recognized vulnerabilities.
Last week, the children’s rights commissioner Despo Michaelidou said putting migrant reception centres in lockdown is a violation of migrant children’s basic human rights and liberties, with her strong opposition to the decree banning residents from leaving migrant camps relayed to several ministries and the Ombudswoman through a letter.
Pournara residents on Monday also called for better living conditions, as the plummeting temperatures in conjunction with inadequate clothing and bedding have left many exposed to the cold. Residents also assert that many women are without essential hygiene products such as sanitary pads.