A. Situation analysis
Description of the disaster
On 20 May 2021, the Minister of Interior, Nikos Nouris, sent a letter to the European Commission informing it that Cyprus cannot withstand further migration flows and therefore the country is entering in a state of emergency.
A series of events, starting from March 2020, led to the declaration of the state of emergency. Since the onset of the COVID-19 outbreak in March 2020, Cyprus has experienced many periods of lockdowns and relaxation measures.
The consecutive lockdowns and movement restriction measures, with the latest lasting from 26 April to 10 May 2021, had inadvertently affected the arrival trends of migrants.
On 10 May 2021, the Government decided to gradually stop the lockdown and consecutive restrictions, so that normalization could be achieved until June 2021. At that time, the Government’s Advisory Scientific Group of epidemiologists predicted that the country will have successfully accomplished herd immunity against the Novel Coronavirus (65% of population vaccinated with at least the first jab).
As expected, the relaxation measures caused an influx of migrants directly from Syria by boats, and also over other routes (see Figure 1), which caused enormous pressure to the already overcrowded reception system. As of November 2020, the First Reception Centre in Pournara (Kokkinotrimithia) ran over maximum capacity, restricting the exit of newly arriving migrants – caused by the increased flow as well as the change of the origin of people arriving, as explained below. This also concerned the new arrivals who could provide an address where the Asylum Service could reach them, which was a prerequisite for their exiting until that point. In certain cases, several migrants were confined inside the Centre for over two months and tensions broke out due to overcrowding. As an example of the increased flow of people, since the relaxation measures began, 4 boats arrived within two weeks-time with 274 persons, which was a new record in the country’s migration trends.
Moreover, before 10 May 2021, the checkpoints between the Government controlled areas and the non-Government controlled areas were closed because of the lockdown, therefore, migrants arriving from Turkey were stuck for a long time at the northern non-Governmental controlled areas and in Turkey. With the easing of restrictions, the flow of people has increased via this route also.
While the Government officials are still struggling to release the migrants who were restricted in the Centre before May 2021, the Reception Centre currently hosts more than 1,800 migrants, meaning that it is running 125% over max capacity, hosting part of the population in tents next to the centre. Meanwhile, the Kofinou Accommodation Center is full as well, with almost 400 migrants and more than 50 staying in the quarantined area nearby the Centre as of 7 June.
Concerning the noted delay of examining new asylum applications, the Minister clarified that the country’s authorities are overwhelmed with rejected applications.
According to statistics from the Cyprus Asylum Service, Reception Centre managing officials, 3,500 migrants have reached Cyprus since the beginning of the year, 14% of whom (494) came by boats.
The afore-mentioned numbers indicate a 350% increase in migration arrivals since the respective period of 2020 (see below table 1, for detailed overview).
Meanwhile, the nationality and family status of the arriving migrants has shown a specific change as well, as in 2020 most arrivals were Syrian nationals (almost 45%), while during the first months of 2021 only 1/6 of the arrived migrants were Syrians (see table 2 below).
It is very important to note that boat arrivals consist of families of Syrians with children younger than 7 years old. This implies different needs from other arrived migrants of other nationalities, who are in majority single persons. Syrians are given significant priority from State Officials in order to exit the Reception Centre, since they are:
de jure refugees and thus their asylum application is viewed by fast track procedures.
more probable to provide an address for the Authorities to be able to track them, because they usually have family and friends already residing in Cyprus .
are entitled to stay at Kofinou Reception and Accommodation Centre in Larnaca, which is dedicated for vulnerable arriving asylum seekers and for families.
Their medical screening is quicker, as most are already vaccinated against common diseases and their tests are simpler and quicker to perform.
Due to the above, Syrian nationals are usually granted exit from the Centre in maximum two weeks, while other nationalities remain for a longer period, in some cases even months. Because of the epidemic, the stay of the arriving migrants was prolonged, and as such the Authorities were able to release only a handful since 10 May 2021. It is also important to note that any new arrival is quarantined up to 14 days until their test to the COVID-19 PCR shows negative. This low exiting rate in combination with the quarantine practice, increased the numbers of migrants “stuck” inside the Centre before May and the constant arrival of boats, has again led to overcrowding and fears of rioting. As such, the Syrians who have been arriving by boats since May 10 are housed in temporary tented encampments near their arrival site, while others are moved to directly to Kofinou Centre.