UNHCR pleased with Cyprus' decisions on asylum seekers and refugees
Nicosia, Mar 8 (CNA) – A UNHCR official has expressed satisfaction with Cyprus government's decisions to strengthen capacity of departments dealing with asylum seekers and refugees.
Speaking at a press conference on his first official visit to Cyprus, Deputy Director of the Bureau for Europe of UNHCR Oluseyi Bajulaiye also stressed that ''Cyprus like some other new EU members located at the external borders of the Union have more obligations thrust up on them in dealing with asylum seekers''.
Noting the very good collaboration UNHCR has with the Cyprus government, Bajulaiye also made an appeal to the public and certain sectors of the government to be able to make a distinction between refugees and asylum seekers.
According to the UNHCR data for Cyprus, as stated during the press conference, the number of refugees as of the end of 2004 is 531 and the number of asylum seekers is 10.028 whereas the majority of the recognised refugees are from Iran.
Noting that Cyprus ''is moving up the ladder'' in terms of the growing number of asylum seekers, Bajulaiye attributed the increase to the geographical position of the island, noting that there is a significant number of people who ''are coming through the northern territory''.
Taking into consideration the increasing numbers, Bajulaiye said that Cyprus has to improve on the quality of the training aspect of officials dealing directly with these issues, in terms of receptional facilities in order to meet the EU standards, in the field of the assistance to political asylum seekers and refugees as well as in terms of opportunities of the refugees' integration into society.
He acknowledged that Cyprus, as an EU member and furthermore as a state placed at the external borders of the Union has certain obligations ''in terms of maintenance of certain standards on how to deal with asylum seekers and also the treatment that avails to refugees''.
''On that score from the discussions I have had with the government I am pleased to say that the government has taken decisions to strengthen the departments managing refugees and asylum seeker's issues'', said the UNHCR official, stressing that the increased number of asylum seekers demands a government with enough capacity to deal with these cases.
Bajulaiye said he had constructive meetings with officials from the Ministry of Interior, the police authorities, the departments of immigration, asylum and also from the department dealing with the review of those who are applying for asylum in Cyprus.
Noting that with the increasing number of asylum seekers there is strain on the government's infrastructure to deal with this reality and he was very keen to know what the government is planning to do making it easier to those seeking asylum to have access to the procedures.
Further more he had a series of meetings with diplomats, representatives of NGOs in Cyprus and refugees ''to get some ideas as to how they see themselves in the Cyprus community''.
Noting that UNHCR has been actively involved with the government for the last four years, helping the government in preparations prior to joining the EU in the development of the asylum management system, in looking at individual cases of people who apply for asylum, engaged in training activities of some of the government officials he added that Cyprus is expected ''to play its own role as a key member of the EU in terms of how it supports UNHCR''.
Referring to his meetings with refugees, the UNHCR official said that although the number is relatively small in terms of those who are recognised as refugees in the country, ''they see themselves that they can play a role in terms of their own contributions'' to society.
''Some of them come into this country with skills. I met engineers, some make post graduate studies, so although the number is small they can make contributions to the society which they find themselves in'', he explained.
He noted that from the discussions he had, some of the refugees are still struggling to make a livelihood here in Cyprus whereas others are happy with the way their children are being absorbed into the educational system, but it also seems that many people in Cyprus ''do not know the difference between a refugee and an asylum seeker''.
Asked how Cyprus is compared with the other EU member states located at the external borders of the Union such as Poland, he said that one of the UNHCR tasks is to give more support to the new EU member states because they are often the countries where asylum seekers arrive to seek asylum.
''In accordance with the EU directives those new states have the obligation to receive and to process these asylum seekers and therefore it creates a strain on the facilities some of these new states have'', he added.
As regards the students who apply for asylum, he said that the Cyprus government has initiated certain measures to try to accelerate the procedures in terms of dealing with these individuals, noting, ''many of them have been determined not to be genuine asylum seekers and therefore the government is taking necessary measures to address that''.
Responding to another question Bajulaiye said the number of asylum claims is fairly high, noting that he would like to see the numbers reduced tremendously because ''it creates anxiety to the people who wait for an answer'' and who also have limited resources to sustain themselves and rely to governmental support.
Concluding the UNHCR official noted that from his meetings with the refugees he realised that they appreciate the government and the people of Cyprus for allowing them to stay in Cyprus and are keen to contribute to the Cyprus society.