The biggest challenge to the Labour Ministry’s housing and benefits programme is the rapid increase in asylum seekers, Labour Minister Zeta Emilianidou said on Thursday.
She told a House Watchdog Committee hearing on the auditor general’s 2017 report on her ministry that there are currently 25,000 applicants for international protection in Cyprus. She added that there are 1000 new applications a month adding that she will be proposing an increase in the rent subsidy for all recipients to cabinet by the end of the month.
Addressing the issue of homelessness, the minister clarified that it was the Interior Ministry that was in charge of housing. In its search for immediate solutions to find housing for asylum seekers, the Interior Ministry was considering pre-fab houses, she added.
Emilianidou said that when asylum seekers leave the reception centres, they need somewhere to stay. The state often puts them in hotels at huge cost, she added. Asylum seekers are not allowed to work in the first six months after applying for international protection and efforts are underway with social partners to shorten this ‘no work’ period to one month.
A change in the system under which applicants are given coupons rather than cash has led to lower costs, the minister said.
Regarding plans to house unaccompanied minors at Zygi where a reception centre was planned at an old army camp, the minister said that the EU and other experts had advised that 100 is too many for a single space.
She said that land belonging to the Labour Ministry had been found and talks were underway with the EU Commission to use that.
According to the Asylum Information Database (AID) the number of asylum applications has significantly increased in recent years with 2,871 in 2016, 4,459 in 2017, and 7,761 in 2018, bringing Cyprus first in the per capita number of applications among the 28 EU Member States. The upward trend has continued in early 2019 with 1,090 persons applying in January 2019 compared to 440 in January 2018.
“The combination of highly restrictive policy relating to the level of allowance, the sharp increase in rent prices as well as the reluctance on behalf of homeowners to rent properties to refugees has resulted in an alarming homelessness problem as well as asylum seekers living in appalling conditions,” the AID says.