Detention places in Cyprus (December, 2009 and June, 2010)

Field report by Olivier Clochard (translation of this post : Lieux de rétention administrative à Chypre (décembre 2009 et juin 2010) by Marie Martin).

Detention places used by the Cypriot authorities are either based within the central prison in Nicosia, i.e. Block 9 (20)[1] and Block 10 (67), or in the police stations of Aradippou (16), Larnaka (24)[2], Limassol (47)[3] or Paphos (12). Other police stations are also used as detention places such as that of Astromeritis, Lacatamia, Lycavitos, Nisou, Paralimni and there is also the transit zone of Larnaca Airport.

Many foreigners in Cyprus are arrested and sentenced to two to five month jail for the mere infringement on the regulation on entry and sojourn of aliens. They are detained in extra-part of the central prison of Nicosia, which they call Cinema, as it was the former cinema room of the prison. This place shall therefore be considered as a detention place as well, which entails a detention capacity of 60 places. One of the foreign detainees, who spent almost two months there in August and September, 2009, reports that: “The place is always full. There are people who committed petty offences, but the majority is only there because of irregular stay”. People who did not commit any criminal offence shall not be kept in places where only common-law offenders are supposed to be detained, as this fuels the amalgam between migrants and criminals/law-offenders. Prisons are not appropriate places for irregular migrants.

Piled up mattresses in the corridor at Paphos police station.

Many testimonies report that in some places, the number of aliens in detention often exceeds the detention capacity itself. In December 2009, before I arrived in Cyprus, about thirty-five people were detained in Paphos. Piled up mattresses left randomly in the corridor are certainly used when the place is overcrowded. Famagousta Old Police Station may host up to 30 people while its capacity is of 24. Finally, in Block Ten, which normally counts 67 places, a former detained migrant was reporting that, between February and October 2009, “it often happened that eighty persons were detained”. The arrest of almost 200 Kurdish Syrians in June 2010 also contributed to many detention placed being overcrowded.

Since my first visit in June 2007, the situation as for the detention of irregular migrants in Cyprus did not change much, except for two elements: first, some detained migrants are now released after 6 months, in line with a decision made by the Ministry of Interior at its own discretion (and without specific legal provision, which implies that this practice may stop overnight); second, the detention conditions standards at Aradippou police station are relatively good. Although many detainees and police officers showed us rooms which had been refreshed and painted by the detainees themselves (toilets, cells)[4] both in Paphos and in Block Ten, facilities are not satisfying at all: insanitary conditions in the bathrooms and toilets, no access to any yard where to walk in Larnaka or Paphos[5]. Additional elements such as arbitrary practices, unaddressed needs as for access to health care and information, or legal assistance are extremely concerning as well.

According to some policemen, the management of facilities and premises is difficult at Block Ten: in case of a breakdown, they have to call external repairmen which induce many days if not many weeks of delay. In June 2010, two AC generators were broken while the external temperature reached 35°C. One detained migrant, who spent almost 9 months in Paphos, made notice that he did not have access to water in his cell for ten days and that he may times had to buy cleaning products for his cell. Last but not least, it should be noticed that cleaning tasks are made by the detained themselves in all the detention places.

Overall, three matters of concern emerge out of the detention of detained migrants in Cyprus: the bad living conditions, the psychological side-effects of detention which sometimes can exceed a period of 1 year, and the abuse of power by some public services which may lead to the detention of aliens.

Worse living conditions in police stations than in Block Ten

-Relations between foreigners and common-law detainees are difficult.

-Detainees from various nationalities mentioned discrimination exerted against those originating from Sub-Saharan Africa. Some police officers adopt a discriminatory behavior against these people such as a refusal to grant a visit permit to a Cameroonian woman.

-Foreigners are barely supported for legal proceedings. Immigration offices come and make papers sign but it’s none of their responsibility to provide detainees with information. Detained migrants underline that administrative documents are written in Greek, hence important problems of understanding for detainees (especially in properly understanding what they are requested to sign).

-Obstacles to external communication remain. In Limassol, one has to buy a phone card, but many don’t have money: none of the foreign detainees can use his/her mobile phone contrary to Block Ten or Larnaca police station where the use of mobile phones is allowed many hours a day. Some police stations allow only for extremely short visits: two minutes in Limassol, five minutes in Paphos and Famagousta Old police stations. Visits are allowed on a longer basis at Block Ten, about 20 minutes. Finally, appropriate conditions for visits are not ensured. At Famagousta Old Police Station, visits are made either with the entrance wire gate separating both interlocutors, or in the police office. In Paphos, visits are made at the entrance of the police station, with no intimate area provided for visitors and detainees.

Limassol police station : visitors waiting in the entrance hall for the authorization to get inside.

-In Limassol, men report they are locked up in their cell at night. Even if detainees simply need to ring the bell when they need to go to the toilet at night, many detained migrants told the policemen are simply not coming; that’s one of the reasons why the latter ask the detainees to go to the toilet in the evening before they go sleeping.

-Most of detained males who need health care are brought to the hospital with handcuffs. One of them reported he refused to be treated like that as he was going for a visit to the psychiatrist, which resulted in him being denied access to that specialist. In Limassol, a detained woman who went twice to the hospital told she did have her hands cuffed at all any time she went there.

-Infectious disease can develop in the detention placed due to bad sanitary and hygiene conditions. A Chadian national told he was infected with Hepatitis B while in detention at Famagousta Police Station (indeed, a precedent screening proved negative while he was at the central prison of Nicosia).

No legal framework as for the length of detention

-Cyprus law doesn’t allow for detained irregular migrants to appeal against the administrative decision to put them in detention.

-The police officers highlight the fact that, since 2009, detained migrants are generally released after six months if they cannot be sent back to their country of origin. However, some aliens are still kept in detention more than six months: in Block Ten, in June 2010, one of the detainees, who’s from Iran, had spent more than 32 months in detention, while in Aradippou police station, a Kurdish Syrian had been detained for 7 months. There is also the case of an asylum seeker, released in May 2010, who spent 8 months and 1 day at Famagousta Old Police Station. The length of detention, for those who were not sentenced to jail beforehand, also exceeds six months.

-There are cases of foreigners held in detention many times in spite of them living in Cyprus for more than ten years sometimes, some even have a family, children. One Iranian who’s been living in Cyprus for the past 14 years thus spent 14 months in detention in 2007 and 2008 before he was released. For 17 months, he tried to regularize his administrative situation, while working irregularly meanwhile. He was therefore arrested for irregular work on March 23rd, 2010, and has been kept in Limassol police station since then (June 2010 at least i.e. date of our visit).

-The uncertainty about one’s case and what it will result in as well as too long a waiting time before any concrete step is made both create pathogenic conditions. In Block Ten, an Iranian man who’s alone in his cell and who has been in detention since October 13, 2008, is in an extremely fragile psychological state which is totally incompatible with detention whatsoever.

-Asylum seekers sent back from other European countries in line with the European regulation from February 18, 2009 (so-called Dublin II regulation) are automatically put in detention. In June 2009 a Kurdish Syrian, who had been sent back and escorted by three Norwegian officers, had been detained since September 13, 2009. Since his return to Cyprus, he had had no contact the Asylum Service to examine his file. An Afghani who was arrested in Calais (north of France) and then held in detention in Coquelles detention centre, also ended up being detained in Famagousta Old Police Station in December 2009.

-It is therefore noticeable that many asylum seekers are held in detention in Cyprus. A Kurd from Turkey spent five months in the central prison of Nicosia, before he was put in detention for two months in Aradippou police station un June 2010. An asylum seeker from Congo DRC was arrested and put in jail from November 2008 until February 2009, then maintained in detention until October 2009. He was finally granted refugee status in November 2009, after he made an appeal.

Paphos police station : behind the gate, the only place that give the detainees direct access to daylight.

-Although many foreigners were issued a authorization to be released by the Ministry of Interior, many of them mentioned they were released a few days (sometimes many weeks) after they were given that document: 6 day for one of them, 14 days for an African man, one Iranian who was issued his release document on May 4, 2010 was actually released on May 19, 2010. Among those detained in Paphos or Larnaca, some were released at night (9 pm), i.e. at a time when there is no public transport any more. This is a problem for newly released migrants who need to go to Nicosia, all the more so that the Cypriot authorities ask them to come the day following their release in the morning at the Immigration office to be issued the receipt of their residence permit. Indeed, should they not come at that date, their file can be closed or the appointment be postponed, leaving the migrant in an unstable and complicated administrative situation.

Obstacles and difficulties faced by asylum seekers and which may lead them to detention

-The authorities ask asylum seekers to provide with a passport to register their application, which infringes on the Geneva Convention of July 28, 1951 relating to the status of refugees. As they are not issued a residence permit, some end up in detention where their asylum application is finally taken into account by the authorities.

-Many asylum seekers whose file has been registered at the Asylum service for more than six months don’t receive the support they are entitled to by the Welfare Service. They are subsequently reliant on their assistance and help of the people they live with. Some are working temporary but irregularly and thereby are at risk of having their file closed and being detained by the authorities if the latter are aware of it. Some applicants report that the Welfare Office ask them to go to the Labour Office and bring back a document stating that there are indeed employment seeker, so that they can benefit from the welfare support during the first 6 months of their application. Yet, this grant is not, in law, conditioned to the issuance of that document.

Crédits images : Olivier Clochard.

[1] In brackets is indicated the capacity of each centre officially given by the authorities.
[2] Larnaca’s station is called Famagousta Old Police Station.
[3] 37 places for men and 10 places for women.
[4] Some migrants assert they bought the paint with their own money.
[5] At Block 10, detainees can go out one hour a day, from 4 to 5 pm. At Block 9, women go out 2 hours per day (from 1 to 3 pm) on a ground which surface amounts to a basket ball playground. In Limassol police station, men and women go out in the internal yard covered by a transparent roof (from 3 to 7 pm for women; from 7 am to 3 pm and from 7 to 10 pm for men). At Aradippou centre, male and female detainees have a temporary access to the central yard.

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