An estimated 10,000 children of mixed marriages between Turkish Cypriots and Turkish nationals (or nationals of another country) are facing discriminatory barriers to acquiring Cypriot nationality.
The law in Cyprus establishes that nationality is generally acquired through jus sanguinis: a child born to a Cypriot mother or father is automatically considered a Cypriot national. However, an exception introduced in 1999 means that if a non-Cypriot parent is deemed to have entered or resided illegally in the country, their child may only acquire nationality at the discretion of the Council of Ministers, which is creating problems for certain children.
Some brief historical context
It is important to note the context in which Cypriot nationality law operates. Since 1974 Cyprus has been a divided island following a coup by Greek Cypriots against the elected government and subsequent invasion and occupation of the northern part of the island. In 1975, a population exchange took place resulting in the northern part of the island (non-government-controlled-areas) being predominantly inhabited by Turkish Cypriots, and the southern part (government-controlled-areas) by Greek Cypriots, who run the internationally recognised Republic of Cyprus. In 1983, the Turkish Cypriot community proclaimed the Turkish Republic of Northen Cyprus, which is to-date only recognised by Turkey. The population in the northern part of the island are Cypriot nationals and, since 2004, also EU citizens. They may also be Turkish nationals or nationals of other countries who have settled or migrated to the north since 1974.
The nationality exception in practice
In theory, the nationality exception for children of a parent deemed to be residing or having entered illegally applies to the whole island. However, in practice, there are two main reasons why it impacts mainly on children of mixed marriages between Turkish Cypriots and Turkish nationals and/or other foreigners living in the non-government-controlled-areas.
Firstly, the Government in the south considers that every non-Cypriot living in the north enters or resides illegally in Cyprus. This is despite the fact that even if someone requested a residence permit to live in the north, it cannot be granted because the north is not under effective Government control. Even Turkish Cypriot nationals are potentially affected, as most enter and exit Cyprus through unauthorised points of entry in the north (particularly Ercan Airport).
Secondly, the criteria adopted by the Council of Ministers to exercise its discretion in such cases, clearly relate to children of Turkish Cypriots. The criteria state that these children may only acquire Cypriot nationality if a) they were born on or before 1974 or b) their foreign father is not a Turkish national but a national of another country (European citizen or national of another country with which reciprocity is in force or c) their parents' marriage was celebrated abroad at any time or in Cyprus before 20 July 1974 or d) their Turkish Cypriot father/mother had a relationship with a Turkish national irrespective of the events of 1974 (due to studies or employment outside Cyprus) or e) their parents reside in the mixed village of Pyla.
As such, despite the neutral appearance of the law, the adopted criteria clearly impact children of mixed marriages between Turkish Cypriots and Turkish nationals settling or migrating to Cyprus over almost half a century.
Furthermore, a recent case before the Administrative Court has highlighted how the criteria can result in Turkish Cypriot children born abroad acquiring nationality (as it is assumed that their parents met abroad) while children born and raised in Cyprus are ineligible. There have also been cases of children in the same family being treated differently, with one child acquiring Cypriot nationality because they were born in Turkey, and another being denied because they were born in Cyprus.
The negative impact of the nationality exception is further exacerbated by the arbitrary way the Council of Ministers exercises its discretion. Prolonged and unjustified delays in decision-making leave many children and families in limbo without any effective remedy. According to press reports, aside from a few decisions in 2016 and 2019, the Council of Ministers has not made a significant number of decisions since 2012 leaving many thousands (an estimated 10,000) in limbo without a decision being communicated to them, which they could then challenge.
Challenging the law and practice
Cypriot law provides for the right to challenge both a negative decision by the authorities and a failure to decide on an application within a reasonable time before the Administrative Court. Several affected individuals have appealed to the court on grounds of the Council of Ministers’ failure to decide their cases (in some instances for more than a decade) or denial of nationality. In several cases (see ARAR ν. Republic, Case No 159/2016, 24/2/2021, ANSHASI ν. Republic, Case No 903/2017, 2/9/2021, OSMAN ν. Republic, Case No 890/2017, 18/6/2020, IPEKDAL v Republic, Case No Αρ. 944/2018, 3/6/2021, A M K ARAR ν. Republic, Case No 161/2016, 26/6/2020), the Administrative Court has found that the authorities failed to reply to applications within a reasonable time.
In the only case decided so far relating to an application rejected on the ground that the persons concerned did not fulfil the criteria (see Hancer), the Administrative Court did not examine the discrimination claim. According to the court, it was beyond its jurisdiction to consider the discrimination elements as it would violate the principle of separation of powers, because it meant it would have to extend the criteria set out by the Council of Ministers to cover the circumstances of the applicant. This decision was appealed in 2020 and is still pending before the Supreme Court.
The Administrative Court can only examine if an administrative decision or omission is flawed, it cannot examine the merits of the case. So, even if the court were to annul the authorities’ decision, this would only mean the case would need to be re-examined based on the court’s findings. Furthermore, there is no mechanism to enforce the application of the court’s decisions so there is nothing to oblige the authorities to comply with a court decision.
In a July 2023 decision of the Supreme Court (Civil Application 177/21) on an application for an Order of Mandamus on behalf of 16 applicants seeking to order the Civil Registry Department to “adopt a specific procedure and criteria and/or requirements under which they will recognise stateless children in accordance with the International Conventions on Statelessness of 1954 and 1961” the Court rejected the application because Cyprus has not acceded to the relevant conventions, none of the applicants were stateless (they all had Turkish nationality), and any issue with their applications would fall under the jurisdiction of the Administrative Court. Nevertheless, the Supreme Court did accept that statelessness engages the right to private life and referred to relevant ECHR and CJEU case law on statelessness.
The impact on affected children
The impact of all of this is that two generations of Turkish Cypriot children of mixed marriages are caught up in the politics of more than half a century of conflict and impasse as they continue to be denied a legal bond with their country. They are denied their Cypriot identity and their rights both as Cypriot and EU citizens. Whilst many affected children hold Turkish nationality, some of those born to a parent of another nationality could be at risk of statelessness if they cannot acquire that parent’s nationality for any reason.
The affected children face significant challenges and restrictions in their daily lives with barriers to travel, work, and study abroad, as well as lack of access to their rights as citizens despite having been born and raised in Cyprus. Condemnation by international bodies and advocates has to date failed to persuade the government to reform the law and resolve the situation, so it remains to be seen if litigation can successfully enforce change.