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Cyprus Internet Directory [ Kurdish families camp outside interior ministry ]

Kurdish families camp outside interior ministry

Maria Gregoriou

AROUND 150 Kurdish refugees from Syria have been camped outside the interior ministry since April 29, waiting for an answer for their application for subsidiary protection.

Subsidiary protection is given to refugees who have fled their country in a time of war but who are expected to return home after the situation is more peaceful.

A large tent and a picnic table have been set-up outside the ministry.  Sheets have been spread out on the ground under trees as beds. Some children were running around in the parking area as their parents continued to wait for an answer from the ministry for the eleventh day.

The Kurds and their families say they are stuck in a hopeless situation. Although they are forced to remain in Cyprus, they are not allowed to work because they do not have residence permits. 

They have been told by police to move on but they are determined to stay outside the ministry for as long as it takes as it is a matter of life or death for them, they said. 

“We have been here day and night for eleven days and still we have received no answer. We just want the protection that is allowed to us, just like other refugees in other European countries under the EU,” said Kamal Shaykih, 56.

“The first time we approached the ministry they asked us how many Kurds are seeking protection and we managed to get a list of 192 names. This was a year and a half ago and we didn’t get a reply yet.”

Shaykih said the refugees approached the UN on March 10 to help them leave Cyprus and find refuge in another country.

“We do not want to be a load on the Cypriot people. We understand that Cyprus is going through a crisis of their own right now and we do not want to make the situation worse but we must also protect our families and support each other in this struggle for our rights,” he said. 

The UN told them they would receive an answer within ten days but  they never did so they decided to camp outside the ministry. “We just want a yes or no answer,” Shaykih added.  Shaykih himself is legally allowed to work in Cyprus but he chose to camp with his fellow Kurds to support them. 

Ramie Mamo, 46, a mother of three said some of the refugees had tried to leave Cyprus. “There is a family here who sold everything they had and tried to leave but the husband was arrested at the airport. Now his wife and children are on the streets without a home or anything to eat. The government has left us without any choices,” she said.

“I am sunburned. It doesn’t matter.  I sleep on the ground and that doesn’t matter. We have been through much worse and we will be patient until we get protection. Even if we get a negative answer, we will not leave until it becomes a positive one,” Mamo said.

Another woman who said she has been in Cyprus for 18 years said she had had both of her children on the island. “Now that one is 17, he got a paper from the government to go for his army service,” said 46-year-old Forgae Nalla.

Interior ministry permanent secretary Andreas Assiotos said he had spoken to the representatives of the Kurds and explained to them that they were allowed to work in the agricultural sector. 

“We have asked the labour ministry if there are jobs in these areas, and we have been told there are,” he said.

“I know they are asking for protection but protection from what? We are not threatening them. I believe that they are asking for a permanent residency in Cyprus and to have equal rights as Cypriot citizens to work in all sectors. With the situation being as it as and more Cypriots becoming unemployed, we cannot accept people coming from Syria due to war to work in all sectors. Maybe they do not want to work in these types of (agricultural) jobs,” Assiotis said.

He said there was no problem with the Kurdish people staying in Cyprus until the situation in Syria calms down. 

“We understand their situation and we will not kick them out of the country,” he said.

However the Kurdish group says they will go on a hunger strike as of Monday if they do not receive an answer from the ministry.

“Some Kurds living in Cyprus gave in an application to work in Cyprus and were rejected, others are not even able to apply. Others have had their nationality taken away from them because they come from the area where the border between Iraq and Syria is so if they go back to Syria they will be imprisoned or even murdered. These people have no where left to turn and are living very desperate lives,” Anthoula Papadopoulou, a KISA steering committee member, said.

Papadopoulou said most countries in the EU provide subsidiary protection to Kurds but for some reason the Cypriot government is ignoring this. Some of these people have been here for many years and can speak Greek very well. Their children were born and raised here and they ask to be given Greek names so they can fit in and even go to the army,” she added.

Kamiran Muhamad a 33-year-old father of four, committed suicide on April 17 after being denied asylum. He had fled Syria three months before that.  

KISA’s Doros Polycarpou said the implementation of the decision to provide Kurds with subsidiary protection would not affect Cyprus to a large extent as 95 per cent of all funding would be covered by the EU.

“The government has only given the Kurds the status of a visitor for humanitarian reasons but this does not really give them any rights. They are told that they can work in Cyprus but companies are not allowed to employ people from third countries,” he said.

KISA has prepared a petition in Greek in support of the Kurds, which is due to be issued. An English version will also go out. It also urges people to offer material and moral support to the families outside the ministry.

A woman prepares food at the camp (Christos Theodorides)

(Source: Cyprus Mail)
Copyright © Cyprus Mail 2008 Please contact Cyprus Mail for the copyright terms of this article.

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