Understanding the Asylum System in Cyprus: A Guide for Asylum Seekers

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In recent years, modifications have been made to the asylum procedures in Cyprus to ensure that asylum seekers have a right to an effective remedy. As part of these modifications, on June 26th, 2019, the Council of Ministers approved Decision no. 87.764, which terminated the acceptance of new applications or appeals by the Refugee Reviewing Authority (RRA), a non-judicial second-level first-instance decision-making authority. Instead, the RRA was replaced with a judicial review on both facts and law before the Administrative Court, which has jurisdiction to review all administrative decisions, including asylum decisions. This change significantly contributed to increasing the Court’s backlog, leading to the establishment of a specialized court in 2018 to address the increased workload and to address the floodgates argument.

The International Protection Administrative Court (IPAC) now deals with issues of asylum and international protection, and issues first-instance decisions on appeals against asylum rejections or other decisions of the Asylum Service. Any pending appeals were transferred to the Asylum Service for examination, and under the new procedures, any decision by the Asylum Service that an applicant wishes to challenge and appeal must be taken directly to the Administrative Court of International Protection within 30 days of receiving notice of the decision. These changes are provided for in the amended Refugee Law N. 2000 (6(I)/2000), as amended by Law N. 142(I)/2020.

With this article I am to assist any interest reader in the process of seeking asylum in Cyprus.

When we talk about facts in the context of a judicial review, we refer to the evidence that was presented in the original decision-making process. For example, in an asylum case, facts might include the reason why the applicant fled their country, the conditions in their country that made them fear for their safety, and any other relevant details of their case. During a judicial review of facts, the reviewing court examines the evidence presented in the original decision-making process to ensure that all relevant facts were taken into account and that the decision was based on a correct understanding of those facts.

On the other hand, when we talk about law in the context of a judicial review, we refer to the legal principles and rules that apply to the case. For example, in an asylum case, the law might include the relevant provisions of international human rights law or the national law of the country where the asylum application was made. During a judicial review of law, the reviewing court examines whether the decision was made in accordance with the relevant legal principles and rules, and whether the decision-maker had the legal authority to make the decision that they did.

So, a judicial review of facts and law involves examining both the evidence presented and the legal principles and rules that apply to a case, to ensure that the original decision was made in accordance with both the facts and the law.

With this article I am to assist any interest reader in the process of seeking asylum in Cyprus.

Considerations for a Successful Initial Application

Asylum seekers in Cyprus can enter the country in different ways. Some arrive in a regular manner, such as those who enter legally and then apply for asylum when their visa expires. Others may enter irregularly by crossing the green line from territories not under the effective administration of the Republic of Cyprus (RoC) in the north of the island. The green line is not a recognized official entry point into the RoC for first time.

The asylum procedure in Cyprus involves lodging an application with the Asylum Service, which is part of the Ministry of Interior. This process typically involves several steps, including the submission of relevant evidence, an interview with an asylum officer, and a review of the applicant’s case by a decision-maker. For those who entered irregularly, the first step is to register at the Reception Centre in Kokkinotrimithia (Pournara), where they are expected to stay for a period of 72 days (although this can vary based on factors such as overcrowding and government policy).

Asylum seekers who enter regularly can apply at the Immigration Unit, which is a governmental office that exists in each of the five districts in Cyprus (Nicosia, Limassol, Larnaca, Paphos, Ammochostos). If an asylum seeker is in prison or detention, they can apply at the place of imprisonment or detention, with the Aliens and Immigration Unit notified for those in police holding cells.

Once an application is lodged, it is registered in a common database and fingerprints are taken. From the day an asylum application is submitted until a final decision is made, an individual is considered an asylum seeker and entitled to the rights that come with this status. It is important to note that the written confirmation of the submission should always be given to the seeker.

During the interview with the asylum officer, any asylum seeker should expand in depth and in detail of why his life in the home country is in danger and in case of deporting, he or she will undoubtedly face death. In case that an asylum seeker came in Cyprus for financial reasons or to find a job, (s)he should stop considering himself as an asylum seeker and contract with Civil Registry and Migration Department (CRMD) and apply for the relevant visa. It is crucial and bold suggested before the appointment for the interview, the asylum seeker to collect all the support document (like newspapers from the home country) or seek the advice from a certified lawyer.

The Refugee Law outlines both a regular and an accelerated procedure. The Asylum Service is responsible for issuing decisions that can lead to refugee status, subsidiary protection status, or a rejection. In October 2020, amendments to the Refugee Law came into force, resulting in the Asylum Service issuing a single decision for rejection and deportation.

Before the April 2014 amendment, the Asylum Service could also grant humanitarian status, but now this responsibility has been transferred to the Civil Registry and Migration Department (CRMD). Granting humanitarian status is a highly complex matter, and it is suggested to seek it with a professional lawyer’s help.

Both the regular and accelerated procedures fall under the responsibility of the Asylum Service, and asylum seekers are entitled to material reception conditions during both procedures. The accelerated procedure has specific time limits for decision issuance and appeal submission. Historically, the accelerated procedure had never been utilized until it was piloted for the first time in late 2019 for individuals of Georgian nationality. The intention is to adopt this procedure more widely in 2020.

As of May 2022, 27 countries are considering as Safe Country, including Albania, Armenia, Bangladesh, Benin, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Egypt, Gambia, Georgia, Ghana, India, Kenya, Macedonia, Moldova, Mongolia, Montenegro, Morocco, Nepal, Nigeria, Pakistan, Philippines, Senegal, Serbia, Sri Lanka, Togo, and Tunisia. Asylum applications from countries considered safe always undergo a fast-track procedure.

The Dublin Regulation is a law that decides which EU country is responsible for reviewing an asylum seeker’s request for protection. Its aim is to avoid asylum seekers applying for refuge in multiple EU countries while ensuring their applications are handled effectively in one country. During the process of identifying the responsible EU member state, the asylum seeker has the right to stay and receive assistance. If an asylum seeker is sent back to Cyprus under the Dublin Regulation and their application is still being processed, it will continue where it left off.

Appealing Rejection: How to Challenge an Unfavorable Decision in the Asylum Process in Cyprus

Asylum seekers may wish to submit a case to the IRAC for several reasons, including: (a) when their asylum application is rejected by the Asylum Service, (b) when the Asylum Service grants them subsidiary protection status instead of recognizing them as a refugee, (c) when the Asylum Service declares that their subsidiary protection status is ceased or withdrawn, (d) if the government decides to revoke their international protection status (refugee or subsidiary) for any reason, and (e) when the Asylum Service fails to make a positive or negative decision on their asylum application within 21 months of submission.

Acting promptly is crucial for an asylum seeker who receives a rejection of their application. If no appeal is submitted within 30 days (for regular procedure) or 15 days (for fast-track procedure), the asylum seeker risks becoming undocumented and facing arrest and deportation. The IPAC’s decisions can be appealed to the Supreme Court within 14 days.

The Asylum Service currently issues a single negative and deportation decision. When an appeal is filed under the regular procedure, the deportation decision is immediately suspended. However, appeals related to fast-track procedure cases, subsequent applications, unfounded or inadmissible asylum application decisions, and decisions regarding explicit or implicit withdrawal do not have an automatic suspensive effect. In such cases, an asylum seeker must file a separate application with the IPAC to request the right to remain during the appeal examination.

An asylum seeker can either represent himself or hire a lawyer to appeal against a rejection decision. If the asylum seeker choose to hire a lawyer and wish to cover the legal expenses herself, (s)he can do so if (s)he have enough funds. Otherwise, if (s)he cannot afford the legal fees but still want to file an appeal, (s)he can apply for legal aid. It is a strong advice that an asylum seek to get in touch with a lawyer from the first day of receiving the decision and discuss with him/her your options. Unfortunately, the asylum seeker has always to submit the legal aid by himself and a lawyer is not allowed to submit a legal aid application of an applicant behalf.

Asylum seekers who have the financial means to cover the expenses of a lawyer may choose to find a lawyer who can represent them before the court. It is advisable to research lawyers or get in touch with a few as soon as possible after arriving in Cyprus and submitting an asylum application, in order to be well-prepared for any decisions made by the Asylum Service and to build a relationship of trust with the lawyer.

It is also recommended to ask for an estimated price for the entire case from the lawyer at the beginning of the process. While lawyers are free to charge whatever they want for their services, there are some tables indicating estimates, and a reasonable price for an appeal is typically between € 1.000 and € 3.000, depending on the costs that arise during the proceedings of the case (for example: translation etc.).

If a relationship of trust is established, asylum seekers may discuss with their lawyer ways to pay off the fees, such as negotiating a payment scheme or finding another arrangement that suits both parties.

If an asylum seeker cannot afford legal fees but wishes to appoint a lawyer to represent them, they may be eligible for Legal Aid. Legal Aid provides financial assistance for free legal representation by a lawyer of their choice in a given procedure. It’s important to note that (a) Legal Aid is separate and independent from the appeal procedure and (b) Legal Aid only covers the expenses of the case.

During the Legal Aid application process, the asylum seeker is responsible for handling the case on their own. They must appear before the Court on the given dates and times and explain their financial situation to the Court without a lawyer. Therefore and as already mentioned, it is advisable to build a strong relationship of trust with a lawyer from the beginning. This way, the asylum seeker will have guidance on how to proceed during the Legal Aid process in court.

It is recommended to start the process of submitting an appeal and an application for legal aid as soon as possible after receiving a rejection notification, as the appeal must be submitted within 30 or 15 days.

To submit an application for legal aid, the Asylum Seeker should visit the Registry of the Administrative Court of International Protection and inform them of their intention. They should request an interpreter/translator for their first language and communicate which language they can understand best. The Registrar will then set a date and time for the Asylum Seeker and the interpreter to fill in the necessary Forms provided by the Court. The Forms must be submitted in Greek, so the translator will translate them from the Asylum Seeker’s language. It is crucial to provide accurate and detailed information about the realistic chances of a positive outcome and the reasons the Asylum Service didn’t consider examining the rejected application, as it affects the positive outcome of the legal aid application.

Once the application is submitted, the Registrar will provide a legal aid case number and the date and time for the first hearing. The Asylum Seeker must indicate the need for an interpreter to be present during the Court hearings. The accuracy of the information provided in the application is essential to the positive outcome of the legal aid application. Therefore, the Asylum Seeker should write down their story in their own language before getting an optimal and exhaustive Greek translation. They must also give a copy of their legal aid application to a bailiff (court messenger) for delivery to the office of the Attorney General of the Republic.

During the Court hearings, the Asylum Seeker should be present and deal personally with their case, with the help of the interpreter appointed by the Court, to prove the possibilities of winning the case for which they are requesting legal aid. A lawyer from the government representing the Attorney General of the Republic will appear to give an opinion on whether the case is covered by the law and object against the possibilities of success of the case.

The Asylum Seeker should be honest with the interpreter when they don’t understand something and request them to translate all the documents exchanged in the Court without making a summary. They may record it if they want to listen to it more carefully later.

During the first hearing, the Judge will hear the Asylum Seeker and the representative of the General Attorney of the Republic to determine whether the legal aid application is covered by the law. The lawyer representing the Attorney General usually asks for time to submit a written objection explaining whether the case is covered by the law or not. The Court will then give time and set the hearing for another date. The Asylum Seeker may ask the Court to set the hearing as early as possible, taking into consideration the 30-day limit for submitting a recourse. They may also ask their translator to explain the objection as soon as it is ready, so that they have time to study and respond to it at the next hearing.

On the second day of the trial, there will be a discussion regarding the application of the Asylum Seeker. If the application is not covered by the law, the Judge will dismiss it. However, if it is covered by the law, the Judge will order a socio-economic report to be prepared by the Welfare Office and submitted to the Registry within a specified time limit. A date and time for the examination of the application will then be scheduled.

During the examination, the Judge will listen to the Asylum Seeker and the representative of the Attorney General of the Republic in order to determine whether their legal aid application should be approved or dismissed. It is important for the Asylum Seeker to provide all relevant information and supporting documents that demonstrate their ability to win the case for which they applied for legal aid. Such supporting documents may include photos, articles, and documents that prove their claims and show the situation in their country of origin.

The ruling of the Court regarding the legal aid application will be issued, possibly on the third trial day. The Court may either approve or reject the application. Even if the application is rejected, the Asylum Seeker may still submit an appeal at their own cost. It is advisable to already submit the main appeal application in relation to the rejection. If the main application process starts during the legal aid process, the Asylum Seeker may ask the Judge to postpone the trials until the legal aid process is completed.

Successful applicants will be given a decision by the Registrar of the Administrative Court of International Protection, stating that they are entitled to legal aid. At this point, the Asylum Seeker must immediately find a lawyer who will represent them, provided that the lawyer agrees to work with legal aid. A list of lawyers who work with legal aid is available at the Registry of the Court. In case the Asylum Seeker cannot find a lawyer to represent them, they may ask the Court to appoint one for them. It is strongly advised to get in touch with the preferred lawyer before submitting the Legal Aid application. When legal aid is granted, the lawyer will be paid by the Government and is not allowed to charge the Asylum Seeker any additional fees.

One option available to asylum seekers is to submit a recourse or appeal against a decision made by the Asylum Service to the Administrative Court of International Protection without the assistance of a lawyer. Asylum seekers have the right to submit an appeal personally within 30 or 15 days from the day they received the decision they wish to challenge.

However, it’s important to note that submitting a case to the Court without legal knowledge and language skills can be difficult and frustrating. As such, it’s advisable to gather the necessary information and suggestions about the proceeding beforehand.

There may be instances where an asylum seeker may wish to submit an appeal without a lawyer. For example, if their legal aid has been rejected, or if they have applied for legal aid but the deadline is close, or if they wish to challenge a decision affecting them and have not applied for legal aid yet. It’s worth noting that asylum seekers can apply for legal aid even after submitting their appeal.

Here are some guides and suggestions for submitting an appeal without a lawyer:

  1. Purchase stamps worth €96 from a Post office, pay €18.5 for the bailiff (court messenger) who will officially inform the office of the Attorney General of the Republic of the fact that an appeal has been submitted, and pay a variable price for the translator’s services.
  2. Prepare three copies of the original application. Submit the original application with the €96 worth of stamps and one more copy of the original to the Court. Keep the other copy for yourself. Give two copies to the bailiff.
  3. Inform the Administrative Court of International Protection about your intention to submit an application and ask for an interpreter to be present.
  4. When filling in the application form, include only the most relevant facts in chronological order and attach any necessary documents for proof. As there is no need for detailed legal points, simply write a statement about still looking for a lawyer or that legal points will be added later after consulting a lawyer.
  5. As an asylum seeker, an interpreter will be available on the dates set by the Court. Inform the Registrar when submitting your application.
  6. After the first hearing, the lawyer representing the Attorney General of the Republic may ask for time to examine the facts of your case and to prepare an Objection.
  7. After the Objection, it will be your turn to submit your legal argumentation in writing. Seek legal assistance or come to an agreement regarding fees with a lawyer willing to assist you. It’s possible to appoint a lawyer even after submitting the case. If you’re facing financial difficulties, try negotiating a payment scheme with a lawyer.

In the event that the Asylum Seeker wins their appeal at the IPAC, the decision made by the Asylum Service will be invalidated. The Court may either send the decision back to the Asylum Service for reconsideration or directly grant refugee status or subsidiary protection. It’s important to note that the onward appeal before the Supreme Court only addresses points of law and does not have a suspensive effect. Additionally, it can be very costly.

Finally, there is the option of submitting a subsequent application to the Asylum Service Office which allows for new elements to be included, such as a new terrorist attack in the home country. When a rejected asylum seeker submits a subsequent application or new elements to their initial claim, the Asylum Service will examine the admissibility of such application or elements. During this admissibility procedure, the person is considered an asylum seeker and has access to reception conditions. The subsequent decision of the Asylum Service can also be appealed to the IPAC.

If you have any further questions or need more information on the asylum system in Cyprus, don’t hesitate to contact me privately through my Business WhatsApp account. I will be happy to assist you in any way I can.

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