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U.S. Committee for Refugees World Refugee Survey 1999 - Cyprus

Publisher United States Committee for Refugees and Immigrants
Publication Date 1 January 1999
Cite as United States Committee for Refugees and Immigrants, U.S. Committee for Refugees World Refugee Survey 1999 - Cyprus , 1 January 1999, available at: [accessed 27 October 2016]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.

At the end of 1998, there were 182 refugees and asylum seekers in need of protection in Cyprus. These included 104 persons with pending asylum applications and 78 persons granted refugee status but still without durable solutions at year's end. Some 265,000 persons remained internally displaced in Cyprus at the end of 1998.

Asylum Procedure and Law

A draft refugee law, completed in 1996, had still not been enacted by the end of 1998. In the meantime, Cyprus continued to refer all requests for asylum to UNHCR. The government grants temporary residence permits to individuals awaiting UNHCR status determination or third-country resettlement. Since 1993, the government has granted work permits to persons recognized under UNHCR's mandate. The government welfare office takes responsibility for destitute refugees and medical cases referred by UNHCR.

UNHCR reported that 239 applicants approached the agency during the year, the largest groups coming from Iraq (47), Nigeria (44), and Iran (36). UNHCR recognized 45 as refugees during the year and rejected 70, a 39 percent approval rate.

At year's end, 33 recognized Iraqi refugees remained in Cyprus without durable solutions. The next largest group in need of durable solutions was Iranians, numbering 14. During 1998, UNHCR was able to assist in third country resettlement for only one case, a group of four Bosnians who went to Canada.

Restrictive Measures

In June, a Ukrainian ship rescued 112 undocumented foreigners adrift on a small Syrian fishing trawler near the coast of Cyprus. The boat people, without fresh water for 12 days, were in poor physical condition when rescued (two passengers had died of thirst). Initially, they were brought to Cyprus and housed in the Pefkos Hotel in Limassol (Lemesos), where the women and children remained. UNHCR rejected the refugee claims of all but three, a Sudanese, a Bangladeshi, and a Sierra Leonean. Cyprus's interior minister announced that the rest would be deported. As tensions mounted, the authorities forbade the group from leaving the hotel. On August 19, following a protest by the detainees, police allegedly beat the protesters, and transferred 48 of the men to the Larnaca detention center pending their deportation. Fearing their imminent deportation, the detainees rioted on October 23, burning mattresses and refusing to leave their cells. Television reporting showed Cypriot anti-terrorist police (MMAD) beating and kicking the detainees on the ground. A subsequent report on the incident for the attorney general found that the police used excessive force; the author of the report, a pathologist, found that 38 of the 41 detainees he examined (the rest had been deported) had sustained "serious and multiple injuries."

The men who were not taken to the Larnaca detention center were taken to different police stations, including 18 to the central prison in Nicosia (Lefkosia). More than 30 remained at the Famagusta police station in Larnaca at year's end. Among them, the largest number were ethnic Hutus from Rwanda. UNHCR agreed to review the rejected cases, but, in doing so, noted that some of the group were not from the countries from which they had claimed to be.

Internal Displacement

At the beginning of 1998, the UN Development Program (UNDP) took over from UNHCR the role of coordinating humanitarian assistance for approximately 200,000 Greek Cypriots displaced in the south of the island and about 65,000 Turkish Cypriots displaced in the north. Cyprus's total population is 750,000, 78 percent of Greek origin, 18 percent Turkish, and 4 percent Maronite, Armenian, and others.

The displacement in Cyprus is the longest standing in the region. The first forced displacements occurred between 1963 and 1970, when Greek Cypriot military and paramilitary forces attacked and terrorized Turkish Cypriots, displacing 20,000.

Turkey invaded Cyprus in 1974, after a coup backed by Greece's military junta removed the legal president. The invasion caused some 180,000 to 200,000 Greek Cypriots to flee south spontaneously. Concurrently, about 50,000 to 60,000 Turkish Cypriots fled north, including many who had been displaced before.

Despite the involvement of U.S. envoy Richard Holbrooke, the peace process remained deadlocked during the year. The purchase of Russian S 300 missiles by the Greek Cypriot side precipitated a crisis as Turkey threatened to attack if the missiles were deployed. By year's end, the Greeks and Turks seemed no closer to resolving their differences regarding Cyprus or to allowing internally displaced people to return or be compensated for their losses. In December, Turkey refused a European Court of Justice order to pay a displaced Greek Cypriot compensation for lost property in Turkish-occupied northern Cyprus.

Twenty displaced Greek Cypriot women engaged in a hunger strike in December on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, demanding the right to return to their homes in northern Cyprus.

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