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Cyprus Internet Directory [ Dilemma for asylum seekers landing in the north ]

Dilemma for asylum seekers landing in the north

REFUGEE rights activist in the north were yesterday struggling to prevent the imprisonment and separation of adults and children in a group of 18 refugees from Iraq and Palestine.

Members of four families from the two countries were dropped off on the Karpas coast on Wednesday by a fishing boat used to smuggle them from Turkey. Apparently, the refugees had paid 3,000 dollars each and were destined for the south of the island. On Thursday all 18 appeared in court in Famagusta where the nine adults were sentenced to ten days jail for entering the island illegally. The children were to be handed over to the ‘social services’ to be looked after until their parents’ release.

However, the parents and children are still believed to be together at the Trikomo police station after mothers of the children broke down in court and begged not to be separated from their offspring. It is unclear what will happen now.

“When we saw in the media that these people had been arrested, we sent our colleagues to the police station where they are being held. We wanted to offer them legal protection, protection for the children, counseling and translation services,” Utku Beyazit, a psychologist working for the newly-formed Refugees Rights Association (RRA), told the Cyprus Mail.

“The problem is that we don’t want the kids in jail, but at the same time we don’t want them separated from their parents,” he said.

Although details about the four families are still sketchy, Beyazit said it is believed the group of 18 had applied for permission to stay temporarily in Turkey, and that their visas may have expired. Because of their earlier applications in Turkey, it is also believed the 18 may be deported from the island once their jail terms are served.

Refugees often experience great difficulties in the north, where there are no formal provisions for them. Until the end of last year a Turkish Cypriot UNHCR representative offered some legal aid to those considered to be bona fide refugees. This service was, however, discontinued after it was suspected that the representative was taking payment to smuggle refugees under his care into the south.

“If they [refugees] stay in the north they have a hard time. There is no money for them, no shelter, no food, nothing,” Beyazit said, but added that the RRA was still determined to provide what it could, including psychological counseling.

“Most importantly we want to help the children deal with the trauma they are going through,” he added.

The RRA says the ongoing family drama is just one of many involving refugees. Since crossings opened in the UN-controlled Green Line thousands of refugees have poured into the north of Cyprus hoping to use it as a stepping stone to the EU.

“The upside is that this drama has shown the people the seriousness of the problem. When people see nine children crying in court they respond,” Beyazit said.

But the problem remains that while the RRA seeks to protect bona fide refugees, funds for them to do so are virtually non-existent and that most who work for the NGO do so on a voluntary basis.

“This is a human disaster. We need the help of people and organisations. Without it we can do nothing,” Mustafa Abitoglu of the Turkish Cypriot Human Rights Foundation (KTIHV), an organisation from which the RRA sprang. Abitoglu added that his organisation and the RRA were keen to gain resources and expertise from international bodies that help refugees, such as the UNHCR.

“We are more than willing to form links with international organisations so that we can provide proper protection for these and other refugees,” he said, adding: “This is a global problem, so it needs to be tackled globally”.





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



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