The human rights group Amnesty International has accused Cyprus of holding asylum seekers and refugees in prison-like conditions, sometimes breaking European Union law by holding them for more than an 18-month maximum detention.
As an island Cyprus – a member of the European Union – is not one of the main entry points for immigrants hoping to find a place in other European countries, but thousands enter each year.
Amnesty said the government of using detention as a way of discouraging the flow, the news agency Reuters said.
“By detaining scores of people for months at a time, Cyprus is displaying a chilling lack of compassion and a complete disregard for its international obligations,” said Sherif Elsayed-Ali, head of refugee and migrants’ rights at Amnesty.
Cypriot authorities were not immediately available for comment, but have in past said they fully comply with international requirements on refugees.
Amnesty said Syrians fleeing civil war had become targets for being held. “It is incomprehensible that the Cypriot authorities are detaining Syrian nationals … when it is Cyprus’s official policy not to return Syrians to Syria,” Elsayed-Ali said.
“We can only conclude that the detention of Syrian nationals is intended to send a message to other Syrians that they are not welcome in Cyprus.”