Cyprus: Hundreds transferred after coronavirus outbreak at overcrowded migrant camp

After more than 80 people tested positive for COVID-19 at the Pournara migrant camp, Cypriot health authorities have moved hundreds of migrants to another location. The living conditions at Pournara had been denounced by MPs after a visit last week.

Eighty-two people tested positive for COVID-19 in the overcrowded Pournara registration camp near the Cypriot capital Nicosia on Tuesday (November 21), according to public radio station RIK.

They and their contacts — some 600 people — were taken to the Limnes facility in the district of Larnaca (roughly 50 kilometers south from Nicosia) on Tuesday morning using around 30 army trucks, reports the Cyprus Mail.

The facility in Limnes is supposed to serve as an isolation ward. It was originally constructed to host migrants about to be deported after their applications were rejected. However it has been mostly empty since its completition a few months ago, according to Cyprus Mail.

Health authorities said they continued testing in the Pournara camp on Wednesday.

Overcrowding at Pournara

Pournara has long been been overcrowded. It was designed as a registration camp with a capacity for up to 1,000 people. In recent months, the facility was reportedly hosting around 2,500 people; hundreds of migrants had to be accommodated in tents outside the camps.

Last week, a group of Cypriot opposition MPs visited the camp and voiced strong criticism over the conditions there. They said that 1,000 people did not have a bed to sleep on, and called for the swifter processing of asylum claims and better access to education and integration measures.

Cases of drug trafficking and prostitution were also reported to the MPs, who described the situation as “a ticking time bomb.”

In early December, seven people were injured in clashes at the center involving some 300 people. In January 2021, violence between Syrian and African communities at the facility left more than 20 people injured.

Conditions at Pournara have long been at the center of criticism. In a letter to the Cypriot interior ministry in March, the Council of Europe’s Commissioner for Human Rights, Dunja Mijatovic, urged the Cypriot authorities to bring the reception conditions “in line with applicable human rights standards and ensure that asylum seekers and migrants enjoy effective access to all necessary services.”

Increase in asylum applications

According to EU statistics, Cyprus received the largest number of asylum applications in the EU in 2020, in relation to the size of its population. This year, the number of migrants and refugees who arrived in Cyprus increased significantly — a government spokesperson announced in October that arrivals recorded in 2021 up to that point were already 38% higher than for all of 2020.

Many humanitarian organizations working with migrants in Cyprus report that asylum applications can take years to complete. Therefore, many are left with only little or no state aid and are rules often forbid them from working. This can lead to exploitative and insecure work, often with low wages and no recourse to the authorities if things go wrong.

In November, the Republic of Cyprus announced that it was submitting a request to the European Commission in order to suspend applications for asylum for all those who arrive in the country without the correct papers.


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