The U.S. State Department published its annual human rights report on Cyprus, saying that significant issues facing minorities and particularly asylum seekers were reported in 2022.
Among others, it noted that there were reports by media and nongovernmental organisations (NGOs) that government officials mistreated members of ethnic and racial minorities during the year.
On torture and inhuman, degrading treatment, the report referred to an incident in Chloraka, Paphos where police and local authorities “targeted and mistreated asylum seekers and refugees by forcing them to abandon an apartment complex that the Paphos district officer declared unfit for habitation because the drinking water supply was unsuitable for consumption. An NGO reported that police entered some of the apartments without court warrants and intimidated residents who refused to leave the building.”
Overcrowding in prisons
It also said that overcrowding remained a problem in the Nicosia central prison. The prison’s capacity is 543, while the maximum number of inmates held during the year was 998.
The report referred to the death of Turkish Cypriot prisoner Tansu Cidan in his cell. Eleven prisoners were arrested in connection with the murder and six prison guards were suspended from duty pending the outcome of the investigation.
Conditions at Pournara reception centre
Regarding Pournara it said UNHCR described the migrant reception centre, designed to accommodate up to 1,000 new arrivals for 72 hours before relocation to more permanent housing, as a “de facto detention centre” for asylum seekers. The facility housed more than 3,000 asylum seekers in December according to NGO reporting.
According to the government, the centre’s population included approximately 270 unaccompanied minors ages 15 to 18, with up to 15 unaccompanied minors accommodated in each room.
NGOs and media reported that personnel at Pournara reception centre, Social Welfare Service contractors, and police subjected asylum seekers and refugees to physical and verbal abuse.
Furthermore, the report said migrants continued to face significant hurdles to securing housing while based at Pournara.
Regarding access to asylum, the report said due to a significant increase in asylum claims during the year and long delays in the examination of applications, 29,715 asylum claims were pending as of the end of December, 10,907 more than the number at the end of 2021. It also referred to the establishment of the International Protection Administrative Court (IPAC) to streamline the examination of asylum appeals, however, despite an increase in the number of IPAC judges, a backlog of 8,013 appeals pending adjudication remained at year’s end.
On corruption, the report said further said that there were numerous reports of government corruption during the year. It said that on July 14, the government brought corruption-related charges against the former president of the House of Representatives, Demetris Syllouris, former House of Representatives member Christakis Giovani, and two other individuals who were featured in the October 2020 al-Jazeera expose, The Cyprus Papers – Undercover, in which undercover reporters captured extensive evidence of government corruption related to the now-defunct Citizenship by Investment program (CBI).
Regarding discrimination and societal abuses, the report noted from January to November, police investigated 45 cases of rape and 165 cases of sexual abuse. During the same period, police received 2,104 complaints of domestic violence. Police investigated 840 of the reported cases and filed 496 cases in court. From January to November, police investigated 44 cases of sexual harassment and by November prosecuted 23 of those cases.
Furthermore, it said lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and intersex (LGBTQI+) individuals faced significant societal discrimination, including potential violence, particularly in rural areas.
On forced or compulsory labour, the report said the Roma community and asylum seekers are especially vulnerable to forced labour exploitation, according to NGOs.
In addition, the report said despite a legal framework, the Ministry of Labor and Social Insurance did not effectively enforce the law governing employment and labor matters with respect to women. The law requires equal pay for equal work, but that often did not translate in practice. Women experienced discrimination in areas such as hiring, career advancement, employment conditions, and pay. Eurostat data indicated the average pay gap between men and women was 9 percent in 2020.
For the Turkish-occupied north of Cyprus, the report noted that “authorities,” generally maintained effective control over the security forces, however, there were reports of members of security forces committing abuses.
Significant human rights issues in the north included credible reports of serious restrictions on freedom of expression and media, including criminal libel “laws”; refoulement of asylum seekers; serious acts of “government” corruption; lack of investigation of and accountability for gender-based violence; crimes involving violence or threats of violence targeting members of national and racial minorities, including foreign domestic workers and international students; and trafficking in persons.
“Authorities” it adds, took some steps to investigate officials following allegations of human rights abuses and corruption. There was evidence, however, of widespread impunity.
Prison conditions in occupied north
Prison and detention centre conditions did not meet international standards in several areas, including overcrowding, sanitary conditions, medical care, heating, and access to food.
Reference is also made to the arrest of Greek Cypriot Andreas Soudjis. In September, Greek Cypriot Andreas Soudjis was sentenced to one month in jail for allegedly taking photographs of a restricted military zone. Soudjis and his lawyer reported the photographs were of abandoned buildings in Varosha. In a separate “court” hearing, Soudjis was also found guilty of the possession of an unlicensed walkie-talkie. Soudjis was released in October. Turkish Cypriot so-called “officials” banned him from crossing into the north.
There were also reports of charges lodged against persons with alleged ties to Fethullah Gulen and his movement.
Abuse against enclaved Greek Cypriots and Maronites
Regarding arbitrary or unlawful interference with privacy, family, home or correspondence, the “law” prohibits such actions. However, there were reports that “police” subjected Greek Cypriots and Maronites living in the area administered by Turkish Cypriot authorities to physical surveillance and monitoring, including “police” patrols and questioning.
Greek Cypriot and Maronite residents reported that “police” required them to report their location and when they expected visitors. A Maronite representative asserted that Turkish armed forces continued to occupy 18 houses in the Maronite village of Karpasia.
There is also discrimination against Greek Cypriots and Maronites living in the area administered by Turkish Cypriots. They could take possession of some of their properties in that area but were unable to leave their properties to heirs residing in the Republic of Cyprus-controlled area. Maronites living in the Republic of Cyprus could use their properties in the north only if those properties were not under the control of the Turkish military or had not been allocated to Turkish Cypriots.
While authorities usually respected press and media freedom, at times they harassed, intimidated, or arrested journalists or otherwise obstructed their reporting.
According to NGOs, journalists, and human rights defenders, authorities advised some journalists not to criticise the Turkish president or the Turkish government.
Contacts reported the Turkish “embassy” in the illegal regime maintained a list of politicians and writers supportive of a bizonal bicommunal federal solution to the division of the island and who were critical of the Turkish government’s policies.
Regarding the participation of women and minority groups, the report noted that both groups remained underrepresented in senior political positions.
In addition, there were no so-called laws specifically addressing domestic violence.
Violence against women, including spousal abuse, remained a major problem.
There were numerous reports of corruption in the so-called “government” during the year. Observers generally perceived corruption, cronyism, and lack of transparency to be serious problems in the legislative and executive branches.
Some of the approximately 15,000 African students with visas to study at “universities” in the area administered by Turkish Cypriot “authorities” reported racial discrimination in housing, employment, and interactions with authorities. More than 50,000 foreign students, excluding Turkish students, study at “universities”.
As far as Violence against LGBTQI+ Persons is concerned, a human rights NGO reported that online hate speech towards LGBTQI+ individuals was increasingly common, especially during pride parades, but “police” did not investigate.
The report also says that persons with disabilities could not access education, health services, public buildings, and transportation on an equal basis with others.
A researcher reported that universities were used to smuggle or traffic large numbers of Africans and South Asians.
So-called authorities reported there were 47,147 registered foreign workers, including 31,613 Turkish citizens and 15,534 individuals from other countries, in the area administrated by Turkish Cypriots. Non-Turkish foreign migrant workers faced societal discrimination based on their ethnicity, race, and religious beliefs.
Labour conditions, minimum wage
Union members reported that at times “police” maintained a heavy presence and took measures at demonstration areas aimed at deterring union members from engaging in union activity and peaceful protests.
As of September, the minimum monthly wage in the area administrated by Turkish Cypriots was 11,800 Turkish lira ($627). According to labour unions, this is below the poverty line.