Source : Cyprus Mail
by Stefanos Evripidou
ASYLUM seekers and refugees are consistently subject to discrimination and abuse from government authorities, while living in constant fear of deportation, according to a study by the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR).
The UNHCR survey conducted last summer revealed that female asylum seekers and refugees lived with the "immense fear of getting deported by immigration police". As a result, many were reluctant to submit any kind of application form, preventing them from obtaining what they are legally entitled to such as social welfare benefits, education and free healthcare.
Cyprus law, in line with European law on asylum, specifies that no refugee or asylum seeker should be returned to a country where life or freedom is threatened. However, those interviewed said that they feared "random" deportations which had occurred several times before to such an extent that they wouldn’t leave their houses out of fear. Even those who lived in Cyprus for more than seven years and were entitled to citizenship would not apply for fear of deportation.
Regarding attitudes towards the police, the UNHCR report said that in most cases, respondents claimed police refused to provide help, especially when they wanted to file a complaint. They felt most frustrated by the "discrimination and abuse" they had to endure from government department employees, mainly the asylum service, welfare department, labour offices and hospitals.
The interviewees told the relief agency that sometimes they would have to wait a whole day to speak to a welfare officer or see a doctor, that they would be yelled at and told : "You don’t belong here, go back to your country" ; "go away and never come back" ; "you are not a Cypriot and you have no rights" ; and also "it’s only a matter of time" (before deportation).
The UNHCR in Cyprus approached 300 female asylum seekers and refugees for interview in July 2006, but only 50 agreed to talk ; the remainder refused in fear that their application or presence on the island would be threatened. The findings of the report were shared with government departments in February 2007.
A separate report in May 2007 revealed that asylum seekers entitled to public allowance were made to wait months before receiving any form of help from the government, if at all. Once payments did start they would be erratic in timing and amount, the report concluded. Meanwhile, they rarely received any help with housing from the welfare department. Twenty-two per cent of those asked said they had to sleep on the street or in parks.
According to one UNCHR official, very little has changed since then and the agency continues to receive a similar number of complaints regarding the lack of assistance by government officials. Labour Minister Antonis Vasiliou recently referred to the need of the welfare services to learn good behaviour in an effort to tackle the multitude of complaints he said he was receiving. The department responded last week with a one-hour wildcat strike.
The report highlighted "the gap between theory and practice" in terms of what people were entitled to and what they got. The refugee agency encouraged the government to provide leaflets with information on their rights not only to asylum seekers and refugees but also public officers so they too could be made aware of their role and legal obligations. The agency also sought to reduce the number of complaints against public officials’ behaviour, suggesting training them to be more cultural and gender sensitive.
Copyright © Cyprus Mail 2007
Migrant numbers pass 150,000 mark
The total number of migrants in Cyprus is estimated to have topped the 150,000 mark.
According to statistics released by the Department of Migration yesterday, more than 80,000 are here legally from third countries, mainly Sri Lanka and the Philippines, while 40,000 Europeans are now living on the island.
The rest are here illegally, with many said to be crossing into the Republic via the Green Line.
Applications for political asylum currently stand at 8,010, with numbers steadily rising over the past three years. There have been 1,395 applications in the first six months of this year alone.
Justice Minister Sophocles Sophocleous said that, "the statistics speak for themselves", and acknowledged that, "there is a major problem, not just in Cyprus but throughout Europe."
Doros Polycarpou, President of KISA (Action for Equality, Support and Anti-Racism) said that many migrants are being illegally detained by the authorities and that this is a huge problem that needs to be addressed.
DISY Deputy Eleni Theocharous, meanwhile, has called on the EU for assistance, with the organisation said to be in discussions over changing certain immigration procedures at countries’ points of entry.
According to British Euro MP John Grint, "there are probably five to six million undocumented migrants within the major western European countries and it’s not practical or possible to send them all back. What are you going to do with them ? You can’t leave them living on the margins of society working in the black economy indefinitely."
The United Nations has estimated that there are 192 million people currently living in a different country than that of their birth.
Copyright © Cyprus Mail 2007