Amnesty accuses Cyprus of holding migrants in prison conditions

NICOSIA Tue Mar 18, 2014 7:46am EDT

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NICOSIA (Reuters) - Cyprus routinely detains migrants in prison-like conditions, sometimes breaking European Union law by holding them for more than an 18-month maximum, Amnesty International said.

While Cyprus is not one of the main routes for migrants to reach Europe, thousands do enter the island each year and Amnesty accused the government of using detention as a way of discouraging the flow.

Socrates Hasikos, Cyprus's interior minister, said Amnesty's report was "full of inaccuracies and sweeping generalizations".

The group said migrants, who included asylum seekers, were held in cramped conditions, and there had been cases of mothers separated from their children.

"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.

The rights group said Cyprus was also detaining Syrians fleeing civil war.

"It is incomprehensible that the Cypriot authorities are detaining Syrian nationals ... when it is Cyprus' 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."

The Cypriot minister told the state news agency Syrians were in detention for committing offences, and authorities were investigating the possibility of deporting them to a third jurisdiction, not Syria.

(Reporting by Michele Kambas; Editing by Alison Williams)

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