Health concerns cannot justify prolonged deprivation of liberty

A handful of asylum seekers of the app 700 living in Pournara camp in Kokkinotrimithia, have found to be infected with scabies. According to information we have from the camp management, they are receiving treatment and their situation is under control while measures to avoid further spreading have been taken. Scabies is very common and can be cured, it occurs frequently in any facilities where people live in close quarters and anyone can get it. In fact, it has occurred before at other collective centers in Cyprus and has been treated and contained. However, the Council of Ministers, in exercising its powers under Article 4 of the Law on Infectious Diseases, has declared the area occupied by the Pournara Center in Kokkinotrimithia Community to be a contaminated local area from scabies.

The Law on Infectious Diseases covers “Dangerous infectious disease” such as cholera, plague, smallpox, typhoid, yellow fever and of course more recently the global pandemic Covid-19. Placing scabies under the same Law that regulates measures to respond to Covid -19 can only raise serious questions.

We would like to take this opportunity to underline the very difficult conditions that asylum-seekers at the Pournara are facing due to their prolonged stay in a closed, overcrowded and tented camp. From the time the decision was taken to turn Pournara into a closed center in an effort to contain the pandemic, many asylum-seekers are confined at the center for more than three months in overcrowding conditions without clear information as to when they will be allowed to leave. This can amount to detention according to a recent decision of the European Court of Justice on 14 May. The Court stated that the concept of ‘detention ’refers to a coercive measure which presupposes the deprivation, and not a mere restriction, of the freedom of movement of the person concerned and isolates that person from the rest of the population, by requiring him or her to remain at all times within a limited and closed area.

Health concerns cannot justify prolonged deprivation of liberty and other measures such as quarantine and confinement should be considered. International and European standards provide that any restrictive measure taken vis-à-vis persons deprived of their liberty to prevent the spread of COVID-19 should have a legal basis and be necessary, proportionate, respectful of human dignity and limited in time. Persons deprived of their liberty should receive comprehensive information, in a language they understand, about any such measures.