Last Updated: Friday, 19 January 2018, 17:46 GMT

U.S. Committee for Refugees World Refugee Survey 2000 - Cyprus

Publisher United States Committee for Refugees and Immigrants
Publication Date 1 June 2000
Cite as United States Committee for Refugees and Immigrants, U.S. Committee for Refugees World Refugee Survey 2000 - Cyprus , 1 June 2000, available at: [accessed 20 January 2018]
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 1999, there were 329 refugees and asylum seekers in need of protection in the Republic of Cyprus. These included 212 persons pending refugee status determination and 117 persons granted refugee status but still without durable solutions. Some 265,000 persons remained internally displaced in Cyprus at the end of 1999.

Asylum Procedure and Law

Although the Council of Ministers approved a draft Refugee Act in October, the law had still not been enacted by year's end. In the meantime, Cyprus continued to refer all requests for asylum to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). In 1999, UNHCR conducted refugee status determinations only in the southern, Greek portion of the island (the Republic of Cyprus), not in the Turkish north, although the agency was aware of five asylum seekers in northern Cyprus. UNHCR provided them assistance through a nongovernmental organization, the Humanitarian Relief Mission. UNHCR reported that 789 applicants approached the agency during the year, the largest groups coming from Yugoslavia (569), Iran (92), and Syria (22). UNHCR recognized 27 as refugees during the year and rejected 222, an 11 percent approval rate.

Cyprus does not regard itself as an asylum country. Recognized refugees, therefore, are expected to seek third-country resettlement if their timely repatriation seems unlikely. In 1999, however, only four refugees were able to resettle to third countries.

(On January 31, 2000, the parliament approved the Refugee Act and published it in the Official Gazette. Because the government had not yet set up implementing mechanisms for the new law, UNHCR continued to conduct refugee status determinations.)


Most of the Yugoslavs who sought asylum in Cyprus in 1999 were ethnic Serbs, mostly from the Belgrade area, who arrived during the NATO bombing campaign. The Cypriot government extended temporary protected status on their behalf through September. UNHCR recognized five as Convention refugees. During the year, 386 Yugoslavs voluntarily repatriated, and at year's end 74 cases were still awaiting a refugee status determination.

Restrictive Measures

Throughout the year, Cypriot authorities took a particularly hard line regarding asylum seekers arriving with forged documents or without documents, who are regarded simply as illegal aliens, according to the country's Immigration and Aliens Act. On January 22, a court in Larnaca reportedly sentenced 23 foreigners, mostly Iraqis, who had arrived by boat the week previously to 45-day jail terms for entering Cyprus illegally. On June 14, a court sentenced a Turkish Kurd to two months imprisonment for illegal entry; the man told the court that he had been persecuted in Turkey for his political affiliations and for having refused military service. On October 25, a court sentenced two Iraqis who told the court they were fleeing persecution to 11 months in prison for traveling with forged passports. At the time of their arrest, the two were attempting to depart Cyprus for Sweden.

In October 1998, British troops stationed in Cyprus rescued a group of 75 migrants of mixed nationality when the ship they were on ran aground. The Cypriot authorities declined to take responsibility for all but two Lebanese refugees who already had refugee status.

Throughout 1999, the British took responsibility for this group. (According to the 1960 treaty establishing Cyprus, certain territories on the island remain under British sovereignty, although the British and Cypriots differ in their interpretation of the treaty.) Officials from the British Home Office recognized 19 as refugees, and agreed to allow them to remain temporarily at a British military compound in Dhekelia. At year's end, neither the British nor the Cypriot authorities were permitting them to work. Most were Iraqis, though two Syrians, two Palestinians, and an Algerian were also recognized as refugees. The British detained the 47 denied refugee status on the Episkopi base in southern Cyprus pending appeals of their rejections. Nine repatriated. On appeal, the British authorities recognized another four persons as refugees, although UNHCR had recommended nine for refugee recognition.

UNHCR established a protection unit in Cyprus in February, and began filing habeas corpus petitions on behalf of detained asylum seekers. UNHCR reports that the number of detainees fell from 75 at the beginning of 1999 to three at year's end.

Although Cyprus signed a bilateral readmission agreement with Lebanon in 1999 that was aimed at returning third country nationals traveling from one country to the other without authorization, Lebanon did not accept any such migrants back from Cyprus during the year.

Assistance, Accommodations

Cyprus provides no reception centers or other accommodation for asylum seekers, but does grant them work authorization and temporary residence permits while their cases are pending with UNHCR.

Cyprus provides six-month, renewable residence permits and work authorization for UNHCR-recognized refugees. They also receive free medical care and primary and secondary education. The Cypriot Welfare Department provides financial assistance to disabled indigent refugees, and, in certain cases, the government provides accommodations to refugees in hotels. Generally, however, refugees find their own accommodations.

(Under the 2000 Refugee Act, recognized refugees will be issued with three-year residence and work permits.)

Internal Displacement

The displacement in Cyprus is the longest standing in the region, and includes about 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.

1999 marked the 25th anniversary of the Turkish invasion of Cyprus. The first forced displacements occurred between 1963 and 1970, when Greek Cypriot military and paramilitary forces attacked and terrorized Turkish Cypriots, displacing 20,000. Turkish troops entered 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.

In December 1999, Greek and Turkish Cypriot leaders agreed to restart UN sponsored negotiations after a two-year hiatus, but had not agreed on an agenda for talks intended to resolve the underlying issues that keep the displaced from returning to their homes.

The UN Development Program took over from UNHCR the role of coordinating humanitarian assistance for internally displaced persons in Cyprus in 1998.

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