European rights watchdog raises migrant conditions with Cyprus

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Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights Dunja Mijatovic holds a news conference in Sarajevo, Bosnia, December 6, 2019. — Reuters pic
Nevin Al Sukari - Sana'a - Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights Dunja Mijatovic holds a news conference in Sarajevo, Bosnia, December 6, 2019. — Reuters pic

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NICOSIA, March 18 — A European human rights watchdog has expressed concern at the treatment of migrants and asylum seekers in Cyprus, which says it is receiving a disproportionately high influx compared to its size.

Dunja Mijatovic, who is the Commissioner for Human Rights at the Council of Europe, urged Cyprus to investigate reports of a number of ‘push backs’ at sea, as well as to address overcrowding and conditions at reception facilities.

‘Push backs’ is term used when boats are turned away summarily, a practice which is not permitted under international law.

“When persons at the border are returned without individual identification or procedure, member states cannot establish whether they may be sending them back to human rights abuses,” she wrote in a March 10 letter to Cypriot Interior Minister Nicos Nouris.

There had also been reports of overcrowding, lack of hygiene, and difficulties in accessing health and asylum services at reception facilities.

There has been an increase in migrant arrivals in Cyprus over the past two to three years, many through a porous ‘green line’ which bisects the island into a Turkish Cypriot north and Greek Cypriot south.

Nouris, the Interior Minister, said in a response to Mijatovic that the island was facing ‘huge challenges’, with over 70 per cent of arrivals coming by boat from Turkey or via the north.

He also denied involuntary push backs, saying that there were a number of readmissions of boat arrivals from Lebanon upon consultation with the neighbouring country, and had concerned people who did not seek international protection.

People who did turn back said they wanted to travel to Italy, and not Cyprus, Nouris said in his letter.

Cyprus says asylum seekers and those given international protection account for about 4 per cent of its population, the highest in the European Union. — Reuters

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