ONE OF the seven asylum seekers protesting on top of Nicosia’s immigrant
detention centre had to be taken down by forklift last night and rushed
to hospital for malnutrition after being deprived of food and water for
a third day running, according to one detainee who wished to remain
Six Iranians and one Afghan climbed onto the water tank of the roof of
Nicosia’s Central Prisons on Saturday after the government failed to
meet the deadline it had set on solving their long-standing issues.
This is the second time in a month the asylum seekers have resorted to
extreme measures to highlight their plight, protesting against the
illegality and length of time they have been kept in custody.
The government succeeded in getting them down last month by promising to
review their files within 15 days. When no official word came after the
proposed date, the men took to the roof again, claiming that all
promises had been broken by the government.
The seven have been held in detention for a number of years in the
now-infamous Block 10 where immigrants who are in legal limbo end up
being detained indefinitely.
The seven requested water, which was refused to them, according to one
Block 10 detainee who managed to speak to the Cyprus Mail last night. He
said claims that they were offered food and water were false. "The boys
asked for water but were told if you want it you have to come down from
the water tank. But they won’t. They all agreed before going up that
this time they would not come down until a solution was finally found,"
said the detainee.
When the forklift arrived to bring down the Afghan who had fainted, the
remaining six tied cloth round their necks and threatened to jump if
anyone tried to remove them by force.
Interior Minister Christos Patsalides said the government would not
yield to blackmail. "We want to deal with the issue of detainees who are
in Cyprus illegally in a humane way as long as they co-operate and
respect the state. Unfortunately, they are not co-operating and trying
to use blackmail." The minister added that though it was their right to
take advice from others, they should not be incited to such a great extent.
In response, Doros Polycarpou, head of KISA- Action for Equality,
Support and Antiracism, questioned whether the government really did
respect their right to take counsel. He rubbished claims that he had
convinced the seven to stay up on the roof.
Defence Minister Christodoulos Pashiardis, acting on behalf of the
Justice Minister, took a harder approach to the protestors. "They were
ready to come down the other night until they received a mysterious
phone call which changed their mind." Asked if they had received food
and water since Saturday, Pashiardis said food and water was available
for those who wanted it, but first they would have to come down.
The seven all had their applications for asylum rejected but now refuse
to return to their country of origin out of fear of persecution. The
Iranian men who are no longer in possession of any identity documents
must sign a form stating their desire to return to Iran, which they have
refused to do.
Although their applications were rejected for not fulfilling the legal
criteria, this latest episode might give them a chance for a new claim
as, since their plight has been made public, it might be considered
dangerous for them to return.
Their demands are for the government to guarantee them freedom of
movement, an end to detention and political asylum.
Ombudswoman Iliana Nicolaou told state radio yesterday that she had made
several recommendations since 2005 for the government to end the
indefinite detention of illegal migrants and failed asylum seekers who
had not committed any crime.
"You cannot keep people detained indefinitely so they don’t know what’s
going to happen to them. I have made my recommendation on this. It seems
the Interior Ministry is not yet ready to discuss this," she said.
Nicolaou said the government had yet to act on her proposals because
they were seeing the issue as a political one, and were wary of setting
Block 10 detention centre has come under repeated criticism from human
rights organisations for not being a fit place to hold people for more
than a few days.
The detainee who spoke to the Cyprus Mail said last night : "We
understand Cyprus gets a lot of bogus claims, but for those of us who
come from Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan and Lebanon, we have real problems."
Regarding the Afghan who was rushed to hospital, he said : "Now they have
come and cleaned his room, which means they will take him somewhere
else. They are trying to break us up."
Meanwhile, police have launched an investigation into how the seven
managed to occupy the rooftop for a second time in one month.