Cyprus: European Council’s Human Rights Commission cautions against migrant pushbacks and ill-treatment

Cyprus: European Council’s Human Rights Commission cautions against migrant pushbacks and ill-treatment

In a letter to the Minister of Interior of Cyprus Nicos Nouris, Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights Dunja Mijatović calls on the Cypriot authorities to ensure that independent and effective investigations  are carried out in the Republic of Cyprus into allegations of pushbacks and ill-treatment of migrants by members of the security forces, including persons who may have needed international protection.

Commissioner Mijatović also called on the Cypriot authorities to align the conditions in the reception facilities for asylum seekers and migrants to applicable human rights standards and to ensure that they enjoy effective access to all necessary services.

The letter from the Commissioner for Human Rights to the Minister of the Interior was sent on March 10 and cites specific violations, calling for the Cypriot authorities to allow an independent investigation into the issue of illegal immigrants. Dunja Mijatovic states in her letter that she has received a number of “reports indicating that boats carrying migrants, including persons who may be in need of international protection, have been prevented from disembarking in Cyprus, and summarily returned, sometimes violently, without any possibility for their passengers to access the asylum procedure”.

Dunja Mijatovic warns Interior Minister Nicos Nouris that “when persons at the border are returned without individual identification or procedure, member states (of the European Council) cannot establish whether they may be sending them back to human rights abuses.”

According to the Commissioner, “This may lead to violations of Article 3 of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) and the UN Refugee convention. Moreover, collective expulsions of migrants are prohibited under Article 4 of Protocol 4 to the ECHR and as such, cannot be tolerated.”

She calls on the Cypriot authorities to allow “independent and effective investigations are carried out into allegations of push backs and of illtreatment by members of security forces in the context of such operations.”

In her letter, the European Commissioner notes additional remarks and reiterates suggestions for which the Cypriot authorities must comply. The suggestions include measures to deal with overcrowding in immigrant reception areas.

In a reply letter dated March 16, 2021, the Cypriot Minister of Interior refers to a series of events that occurred in the past and to the actions of the Cypriot authorities. The issue raised by the Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights concerns the readmission of boats carrying illegal immigrants from Lebanon.

According to the letter of the Minister of Interior, these are incidents that occurred in early September 2020 and concerned 10 boats that had sailed from Lebanon to Cyprus. According to Nicos Nouris, the Cypriot authorities contacted the Lebanese authorities and 6 out of the 10 vessels carrying Lebanese nationals should be returned to Lebanon. He notes that in these cases Cyprus took into consideration and respected the provisions of the relevant EU and international law, stating that the Cypriot authorities prevented the irregular entry into Cyprus of Lebanese rnigrants that did not request international protection and managed to return them with safety to Lebanon. Of the 347 people on board, the minister notes, 24 disembarked as they sought international protection.

In his reply letter, Nicos Nouris also refers to the other issues previously raised by the Commissioner for Human Rights of the Council of Europe. /ibna