Amnesty International yesterday condemned what it termed the “shameful” treatment of migrants and asylum seekers in Cyprus, saying they were being detained in prison-like conditions for extended periods awaiting deportation.
Refugees from the conflict in Syria and women separated from young children figure among those detained in the EU member state, it said in a report.
“By detaining scores of people for months at a time, Cyprus is displaying a chilling lack of compassion and a complete disregard for its international obligations,” said Sherif Elsayed-Ali, Amnesty’s head of refugee and migrants’ rights.
“It is shameful to think that within the EU people who have committed no crime are being held in harsh prison-like conditions for prolonged periods, in some cases for up to 18 months or longer,” he said.
Amnesty cited two cases of foreign women detained and forcibly separated from their young children, one a toddler of 19 months and the other aged three, who were handed over to social services.
The women, longtime residents of Cyprus and married to EU citizens, told Amnesty that the separation had had “devastating effects on their children.”
“There can be no excuse for separating a woman who has committed no crime from her children. The treatment of migrants in Cyprus at the moment is degrading and unnecessary,” Elsayed-Ali said.
Cyprus ombudsman Eliza Savvidou has also criticized the detention of migrant mothers of young children, while children’s rights commissioner Leda Koursoumba has campaigned against separating migrant families.
Koursoumba says the authorities have a legal obligation to ensure the child is properly cared for while the parent is in custody.
Amnesty said at least one person at the island’s main immigration detention center, Menoyia, had been held for 22 consecutive months — in violation of an EU maximum of 18 months — awaiting deportation.
Menogia is “a prison in all but name. Behind a double metal fence ... detainees are forced to live in cramped conditions and only allowed outside the building for 2.5 hours each day,” Elsayed-Ali said.
“Cypriot authorities, seemingly eager to portray themselves as taking a tough stance on immigration, have displayed a ruthless and arbitrary attitude to locking up migrants,” he said.
“The fact that EU laws allow people who have not committed a criminal offense to be effectively imprisoned for up to 18 months is appalling,” he added.
During a visit earlier this month, Amnesty said it found nine Syrian refugees were among those held at Menoyia, including at least one who had applied for asylum.
“It is incomprehensible that the Cypriot authorities are detaining Syrian nationals in Menoyia when it is Cyprus’s official policy not to return Syrians to Syria,” Elsayed-Ali said.
“We can only conclude that the detention of Syrian nationals is intended to send a message to other Syrians that they are not welcome in Cyprus,” he said.