The Commissioner for Child Protection said on Monday before the Human Rights Committee that the “gray zone practice” for the temporary residence of minors in Pournara, given the overcrowding of the Center, is not a solution that can be implemented anymore and it is necessary to setting up a juvenile center. Reiterating the serious problems caused by sewage treatment, inadequate feeding, unsuitable tents for accommodation, he stressed the need to speed up the procedures, especially for minors, while he said that there is a need to re-evaluate the process for processing applications and decision-making on the placement of minors in appropriate structures, while adding that judges may need to be trained in matters of unaccompanied minors.
“We must do everything possible to fulfill our commitments as a state of welfare and the rule of law,” he said, adding that “the guardian of minors (Ministry of Welfare) can not question the age of those who are declared unaccompanied minors”, characterizing this attitude “Conflict of interest”, although he did not rule out the possibility that those who claim to be such are not minors. He also referred to the gaps in the education of underage immigrants and said that, despite the letters he has sent to the competent ministry, no improvement moves have been made, as children are still classified according to their age, without assessment of their abilities or preparation.
However, during the meeting, her reference to circuits related to migrant flows and related to economic interests caused a sensation. He said, however, that these circuits have “extensions within the Police” and “are in the knowledge of the Minister. Interior Ministry “, while, as he said, even the lawyers who represent such circuits are known.
The Chairman of the Committee and Member of Parliament of AKEL, Irini Charalambidou, in her statements after the meeting said that the concerns of the members of the Committee are due to a visit they had at the site in December 2021, where they found that the children live in miserable conditions, sleeping in floor on blankets, in cramped rooms. He underlined that the problem with the sewage is very serious, which affects the guests in the Center, as well as the residents of the area near it.
“It must be decided to create a reception center for minors”, Ms. Charalambidou underlined, explaining that she raises concerns about the possibility of abuse, the fact that there is access from the adult areas to those of minors. “A state must act proactively to protect children,” he said. He also made special reference to the need to integrate children into society, emphasizing the role of the Ministry of Education in this and said that there is a need to evaluate the programs implemented. “We have to see how the issue of verifying the age of minors will be resolved,” she added, expressing her concern about the Commissioner's reference to a conflict of interest regarding the role of the Ministry of Welfare.
DISY MP Rita Theodorou Superman focused on the issue of age assessment. In statements after the meeting, she stated that “the psychosocial interview degrades any medical evaluation procedure as a last resort only in case of persistent doubts about age.” He clarified that “the assessment of age is requested only if it is absolutely necessary and not systematically, respecting the right of the minor to maintain his identity and to be protected from any negative psychological and emotional outcome in case of doubt.” He pointed out, however, that in Cyprus, as in many countries, it is found that a large percentage of those who declare themselves minors are adults, who seek more lenient treatment when committing crimes (knowing in advance that social systems will not offer them what they are looking for) , while ensuring a safe stay up to 18 years. He noted, however, that arrivals of alleged minors increased after the large number of rejections in asylum applications.
“The doubts that are used in favor of those who declare children and there is no evidence to the contrary, we must reduce them and eliminate them in every possible way otherwise we are clearly complicit in what is happening,” said the MP. “We should be particularly concerned about the rapid increase in arrivals from African countries, especially through the Occupied Territories, as well as the rapid increase in alleged minors from the same countries,” he said, stressing that the Social Welfare Service must take an age test. He added that there is no need for long-term monitoring of the cases of unaccompanied minors until their integration, possible disappearances, increase in crime and their education.
DIKO MP, Pavlos Mylonas, in his statements after the meeting stated that “the increase in the number of so-called children arriving on the island is shocking” and explained that he referred to “so-called children”, because according to the information from the Commissioner for Protection Rights of the Child, the Deputy Minister, and the Director General of the Ministry of Interior, those who arrive and declare themselves minors, to a large extent refuse the medical examination to verify their age. He also spoke about the concerns of the President of the Commission, Irini Charalambidou, about the possibility of adults sexually abusing minors living in the same area. “The mere possibility of sexual abuse of children should be a reason not to sleep at night,” he said, adding that a solution must be found, as medical examination for age is not allowed at this time without their consent.
The right to education of these children also emerged as particularly important. He stressed that “children arrive and without any preparation we throw them in the classrooms, because despite the millions of EU in states and NGOs, we did not build schools to integrate these children, teaching them communication”. He explained that their inability to cope multiplies the problems, as they are led to the margins and to delinquent behaviors. He also referred to “modern slave traders with Greek Cypriot collaborators”, who pave the way for the transfer of migrants to the free areas via the Green Line, mainly from sub-Saharan Africa, with student visas through Istanbul and the occupied territories.
The MP of the Ecologists' Movement, Alexandra Attalidou, in statements after the meeting said that the management system of asylum seekers has serious weaknesses and inadequacies and that “the problem will be solved when we lean on it seriously, beyond policies”. As for the children, he described as unacceptable the management they receive and stressed that it does not indicate the rule of law. “Children can not be detained”, he stressed and argued that there should be a strategy and a coordination center, which will monitor the path map of a child from the time he enters Cyprus, until adulthood. “An asylum strategy without an integration strategy is just management,” he said, adding that “this state does nothing to integrate, but instead creates phobias in the population, something that is not allowed to be done by special officials.”