Cyprus: work access for asylum seekers is improved and the hate speech ban in Parliament welcomed, but problems remain

In a new report published today, the European Commission against Racism and Intolerance (ECRI) lauds positive steps in Cyprus since adopting its last report on the country in 2016, while pointing out various areas of concern.

Employment procedures for asylum seekers were made “significantly easier” as of October 2021, when a simple declaration by an employer became sufficient to allow hiring, ECRI notes in its report.

Another positive development observed by ECRI is the entry into force of the Code of Principles and Ethics for Members of Parliament in 2021, which prohibits hate speech and racist behaviour by MPs in the performance of their duties.

ECRI is also pleased to note that since 2019 it has become easier for transgender people to change their names and gender in official documents.

Other positives include the 2018-2022 National Strategy for Preventing and Combating School Violence from the Ministry of Education, Sport and Youth. 

Despite progress, shortcomings persist in various areas.

The report, which covers the situation in Cyprus up to 30 June 2022, points to Orthodox confessions that were allegedly organised in schools without the consent of pupils or their parents, disregarding their views on religion, which cannot be considered – in the view of ECRI – as conducive to inclusive education. ECRI also found deficiencies in the way asylum seeking and other migrant children are assessed and supported before being placed in ordinary school classes.

As a matter of “serious concern”, the report points to practices of subjecting some gay and lesbian people to so-called conversion therapies.

In its report, ECRI also observes that hate speech is still widespread in Cypriot public discourse and remains mostly unchallenged.

Regrettably, registration rules introduced in 2017 put at risk the commendable work of many NGOs, especially that in support of migrants.

The ECRI report requests “priority implementation” for two recommendations addressed to the Cypriot authorities necessitating follow-up action within the next two years:

  • to adopt a national LGBTI strategy, accompanied by an action plan, with a sufficient budget for its implementation,
  • to provide support to child asylum seekers and other migrant children in acquiring the Greek language skills necessary to allow them to follow ordinary primary school classes taught in Greek.

Other recommendations include the following:

  • to address gaps in the implementation of the criminal legislation on hate speech and hate crime, by inter alia providing suitable training to police officers, prosecutors and judges;
  • to develop appropriately funded policies specific to supporting Roma in the areas of education, health care, housing and employment;
  • to review registration rules introduced for NGOs to ensure that they are not prevented from providing needed support to migrants and asylum seekers.