1 February 2016

Africa: UN Experts Urge Cyprus to Address Migrant Detention Conditions, Improve Overall Monitoring

Cyprus has seen many positive developments concerning the treatment of people in detention, but still faces several challenges, particularly regarding the independent monitoring of places of detention and the treatment of migrants, the UN Subcommittee on the Prevention of Torture (SPT) said today after visiting the country.

"We were very pleased to have visited Cyprus and take note of improvements. But the situation of those in immigration detention centres requires careful attention," said Malcolm Evans, the SPT Chair and head of the four-member delegation to Cyprus, in a press release.

"It is so important to ensure that such detention is only resorted to when it is strictly necessary. The conditions of detention should reflect the fact that such places are not prisons and those detained are not prisoners," he added.

The SPT, which monitors how States that have ratified the Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture (OPCAT) are meeting their treaty obligations, was in Cyprus from 25 to 29 January. The delegation accompanied members of the independent Cypriot body that monitors places of detention to the Menoyia Detention Centre, where people are held pending the outcome of their asylum application. The Centre has in the past seen riots, protests and hunger strikes.

"It is vital that all those whose legal situation is unclear, whether asylum seekers or those detained for infringement of immigration rules, are promptly and fully informed of what is happening to them. This is an essential safeguard for their wellbeing," stressed Mr. Evans.

The SPT also held discussions with representatives of the Cypriot monitoring body, officially known as a National Preventive Mechanism (NPM), on how they work and the challenges they face in fulfilling their role.

"We are particularly concerned that the National Preventive Mechanism for torture prevention, which is a part of the Ombudsman's office, should be much better resourced financially and have its legal powers reviewed so that it can continue and expand its good work. It currently does not have the capacity to work as the Optional Protocol requires," he noted.

The delegation also visited police stations in several parts of the country, Nicosia Central Prison, Athalassa Psychiatric Hospital and centres for unaccompanied teenage migrants and for minors.

Following the visit, the SPT will submit a confidential report to the Government of Cyprus, containing its observations and recommendations on prevention of torture and ill-treatment of individuals deprived of their liberty. As with all other States, the SPT is encouraging Cyprus to make this report public.

"I am sure that working together in a spirit of cooperation and collaboration, we will be able to help the Cypriot authorities make progress in achieving a betterment for all those who are in detention," the expert said.

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