UNHCR has been present in Cyprus since 1974 when it arrived on the island to provide humanitarian aid for the displaced populations in both communities. By 1998, the need for relief assistance for internally displaced Cypriots had declined, and UNHCR handed over the work to other UN development agencies. With the increase of refugee arrivals in 1998, and in the absence of national asylum legislation and infrastructure,UNHCR had to assume the responsibilities for registering asylum-seekers arriving on the island and processing their applications. In 2000, the Republic of Cyprus adopted its first national refugee legislation and asylum procedures, and in 2002 it took over from UNHCR the responsibility for asylum adjudication.
UNHCR’s fundamental business in Cyprus is to assist the Government to further refine and improve its asylum legislation and the procedures and capacities for a refugee protection system fully in line with international standards. This requires that existing gaps and weaknesses in the national asylum legislation and practice are addressed; migration management policies incorporate protection safeguards; the refugee status determination procedures are further reformed to make them both fair and efficient; and programmes are put in place to help refugees find a durable solution by way of local integration.
The Government of Cyprus is UNHCR’s key partner in its mission to ensure the protection of refugees and asylum-seekers in accordance with international and European Union standards. Over the years, UNHCR has strengthened its partnership with various Government ministries, especially those of the interior, foreign affairs, justice, education and labour and social affairs. UNHCR has also established constructive working relations and mutual co-operation with the relevant Parliamentary committees, the Ombudsman, the Office of the Child Commissioner, diplomatic missions, the media, and others.
UNHCR has forged useful links with a number of local NGOs and other members of civil society. At present, UNHCR has a funding-based partnership agreement with two NGOs: Cyprus Refugee Council (CyRC) provides free legal and social advice to asylum-seekers and refugees in the Republic of Cyprus and Refugee Rights Association (Mülteci Hakları Derneği) is a Turkish Cypriot NGO helping UNHCR address the protection needs of asylum-seekers arriving in the northern part of the island.