Damtew Dessalegne: We need as much as ever refugees

Refugees need us more than ever before, says the representative of the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) in Cyprus Damtew Dessalegne, stating that we need to combat xenophobia and intolerance collectively. It is the responsibility of everyone, and especially the political leaders, to challenge those who demonize refugees, those who view diversity as a threat, and those who incite hatred for the “others”. In Cyprus, the biggest problem is that refugees and asylum seekers are not relying enough to integrate into society and that our legislation should be revised in several respects.

What does World Refugee Day mean for you?

It is celebrated each year on June 20, following a decision by the UN General Assembly to dedicate one day a year to the millions of refugees living among us who have experienced violence, persecution, discrimination, seeking security and protection in every corner of the earth. It is a time to recognize those communities and people around the world who accept refugees by offering them a safe place, welcoming them to schools, workplaces and their societies. This includes Cyprus.

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Source: http://www.philenews.com/koinonia/anthropoi/article/538619/ntamtoy-ntessalenie-mas-chreiazontai-oso-pote-oi-prosfygs

85 children are in foster families

The need to strengthen the institution of foster care for children in Cyprus was discussed yesterday by the Parliament’s Human Rights Commission.

As Annita Demetriou pointed out, today there are some anachronistic laws, while the whole issue of underwriting is covered by internal regulations of the Social Welfare Services.

At the same time, Mrs Dimitriou noted, the lack of a responsible Coordinating Committee on these issues.

On her behalf Mrs Hara Tamanidou mentioned that there are 339 children under care, of whom 222 are unaccompanied minors. The 157 were moved from their families because of serious neglect or abuse, and 85 of those are in foster families while the 72 are in children’s homes.

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Source: http://dialogos.com.cy/blog/85-pedia-vriskonte-se-anadoches-ikogenies/#.WyDTzoozbIV

Homelessness is becoming an increasing issue for asylum-seekers in Cyprus

23 April 2018, Nicosia Cyprus (UNHCR) – A disturbingly high number of asylum-seekers in Cyprus who have fled persecution and violence in their home countries are facing risk of homelessness, destitution and desperation because of critical shortcomings in the national asylum and reception policies. UNHCR is aware of a number of homeless men, women and families with young children from a number of countries including Syria, Cameroon, Somalia and Iraq. If they are not sleeping rough, they are temporarily housed by relatives, friends or strangers in very small and most often crowded studios or small flats that cannot be called decent home. Some of these individuals forced to sleep on the floor and without access to showers or toilets are additionally vulnerable with disabilities and other health concerns.

Housing insecurity is a cause of great anxiety, and has led a number of asylum-seekers to attempt suicide. The problem has escalated since the beginning of the year exacerbating the already dire living conditions faced by asylum-seekers living outside the Kofinou Reception Centre. While the Cyprus Refugee Law guarantees asylum- seekers immediate access to housing and social assistance once they have presented to the authorities their asylum applications, the present system fails to meet these basic rights placing a number of asylum-seekers at harm’s way.

One of the main problems is the delays in receiving and registering applications, which in turn poses obstacles to accessing social welfare assistance. In some cases, a small emergency cash allowance is provided to tide them over until their social welfare support application is processed and becomes effective. However, this emergency cash support can only cover very immediate and basic needs for a mere few days while welfare applications usually take up several weeks or even months to be processed. This results in individuals and families being left homeless and completely reliant on the goodwill of strangers and the support of a small number of charity organisations that themselves have limited resources.

The situation is aggravated by the fact that single asylum-seekers are no longer admitted to the Kofinou Reception Centre, which even when operating at full capacity only houses less than 5% of the asylum-seekers in the country. The vast majority of asylum-seekers therefore resides outside the Centre. Some are employed, but most are not mainly due to restrictive government policies that prohibit asylum-seekers from taking up any employment during the first six months from the time they have submitted their asylum application. Even after the six-month waiting period, they may only be employed in certain economic sectors that are at the lower end of the pay scale, e.g. agriculture, forage production, garbage collection, car wash and the like, regardless of their academic qualifications or professional experience.

“Given the way the national asylum system and reception policies work at the moment, homelessness and destitution are unfortunately an inevitable consequence for many

asylum-seekers, both newly-arriving and long-stayers,” said Damtew Dessalegne, the UNHCR Representative in Cyprus. But the problem is avoidable. It is not just a matter of additional resources. The best way to ensure the dignity and well-being of asylum- seekers, at a reduced cost to the Government, is to allow them to work at the earliest possible stage and in as many sectors as possible based on the economics of demand and supply. The earlier asylum-seekers have access to the labour market, the quicker they become independent of State welfare and lead an autonomous, productive life thereby also contributing to the development of their host country.

The issue of homelessness follows the deterioration of the reception conditions for asylum-seekers over the last two years. UNHCR has repeatedly voiced its concerns over the low level of assistance for needy asylum-seekers that is provided in vouchers and is equivalent to less than half of the Minimum Guaranteed Income (MGI) that Cypriots and recognized refugees in similar situation receive. What this means is that with the 100 Euro asylum-seekers get as rental allowance, they have major difficulties in finding any decent accommodation under the existing housing market.

“Getting refugees on their feet as quickly as possible is in the best interests of not only the people concerned, but also the host community,” said Damtew Dessalegne. It is essential, therefore, that as a matter of urgency the current policy on the reception conditions for asylum-seekers is reviewed so that the assistance provided to asylum- seekers is set at a level that ensures a standard of living adequate for the health of applicants and sufficient to ensure their subsistence, as required by the EU law. The emphasis should be on adequately assisting asylum-seekers outside of organized reception centres as they have greater success at integrating into the social, economic and cultural fabric of the host society once they are recognised as refugees.

 

Source: http://www.unhcr.org.cy/fileadmin/user_upload/Statement_Homelessness_final.pdf

Cyprus granted protection status to 1300 asylum seekers in 2017

The member states of the EU granted protection status to 538.000 asylum seekers in 2017, while Cyprus has granted protection status to 1300.

The 28 member states of the European Union (EU) granted protection status to 538.000 asylum seekers in 2017, 25% less than in 2016, according to the statistic service of the EU, Eurostat. According to Eurostat, Cyprus has granted protection status to 1005 Syrians, (78% of the total of 1300 positive decisions), to 75 Somalians people (6%) and 50 Iraqis (4%).

Apart from them, member states of the EU host almost 24.000 refugees with the status of relocation. In the EU, the largest group of beneficiaries with protection status were Syrian citizens (175.800 people or 33% of the total persons who have been provided with protection in the member states of the EU), followed by the citizens of Afghanistan (100.700 or 19%) and those who come from Iraq (64.300 or 12%). The number of the decisions providing protection status to the citizens of Syria is less than in 2016, however they remained the largest group that was provided with the protection status in 18 member states within the EU.

In 2017, the largest amount of people with protection status was registered in Germany (325.400), followed by France (40.600), Italy (35.100), Austria (34.000) and Sweden (31.200). From the total amount of people who were provided with the protection status in 2017, refugee status was provided to 271.600 people (50% of the total positive decisions), to 189.000 subsidiary protection was provided (35%) and to 77.500 accommodation permission for humanitarian reasons (14%). It is notable that the status of the EU for the refugees and the subsidiary protection is defined by the European Law, while the humanitarian status is only provided based on the national legislation.

Cyprus has issued 1300 positive decisions for asylum claims, 235 for refugee status and 1065 for subsidiary protection.

55% of Cypriots considers inclusion measures for migrants as an investment

The majority of  Europeans believe that  integration actions of  immigrants are a necessary long term investment, according to a poll of the Eurobarometer which was published in Brussels.

Particularly 69% of  Europeans and 55% of Cypriots believe that integration actions are a necessary long term investment and a similar approach of the analogue projection as bidirectional procedure not only for  immigrants, but also for the welcoming societies. 37% of Cypriots completely disagree with this question and 8% said that they don’t know. According to the survey, almost 60% of people asked in the EU, daily interact with immigrants. 28% of the Cypriots say that they have friends who are immigrants, 6% have friends and members of their families who are immigrants and 6% say that there are members of their families who are immigrants.

At the same time, the survey finds out that only one minority of Europeans believe that they are well-informed about migration and integration. In Cyprus, 24% say that they are informed about the issues and 4% say that they are well-informed about the issue, 53% say that they have deficient information and 19% say that they have no information about the issue. Additionally, 50% of the Cypriots think that migration is “probably a problem” for the country (38% in the EU), 29% believe that it is both a problem and a chance, (31% in the EU), 10% say that it is “probably a chance” (20% in the EU) and 10% think that it isn’t neither a problem, either a chance (8% in the EU). Similarly, 49% of the Cypriots believe that the integration of the immigrants isn’t successful in the country (40% in the EU).

93% of Cypriots wish to see immigrants being given language lessons when they come to Cyprus, (88 in the EU), 90% wish to see the immigrants being given integration seminars and lessons, or to improve the already existing (85% in the EU), 91% wish registration of the children of immigrants to kindergartens (85% in the EU), 90% ask for compulsory language and integration programs when immigrants arrive to Cyprus, (84% in the EU), 83% ask stricter actions against discriminations (73% in the EU) and 49% want to see immigrants having the right of voting in local elections (55% in the EU). Finally, 83% of Cypriots think that immigrants will help the completion of job offers where local people do not work (72% in the EU), 33% of Cypriots (61% of the Europeans) believe that immigrants enrich the cultural life of the country, 56% of Cypriots believe that immigrants are a burden on the social insurance system (58% in the EU), 69% of Cypriots (55% in the EU) believe that they will intense criminality, 46% (51% in the EU) believe that immigrants will help to the improvement of the financial situation and 65% (39% in the EU) that they will take the jobs of locals.

Migration and their effect in Cypriot economy

Migration has a misconceived interpretation in economies and the last years the effort of its restriction through stricter actions, becomes more intense. If migration isn’t harmful and if it is beneficial, then why is there a negative reputation around it?

The truth is that the nationalist element sometimes creates a negative effect on the idea of migration but it’s not just that. One of the most serious problems is mainly behavior. Basically, migration can interact to an economy in two ways. It can create more competition in particular fields that tends to reduce the salaries.  This can reduce the living standard of  local people who are preoccupied with the affected fields. On the other hand, the cheaper workforce interacts as a technological development in the country, since the economy produces the same product with less cost. This keeps the living cost of the economy, low.

Which of the two opposite effects is larger? The important thing is that migration doesn’t happen randomly. The selection of a country and the movement is targeted. Immigrants move to a country which is in search for their services. This means that the interaction to the salaries and the displacement of the local people from particular fields is small. On the other hand, the increase of production is usually very beneficial.

For Cyprus, the last decades the increase of productivity was null. How can technology reduce the cost of the touristic product?  If cooks and waiters aren’t replaced with machines, it is hard for technology to reduce the cost rapidly. The important reduce came to Cyprus from the exploitation of the immigrants who have increased productivity. In a more simple way, in Cyprus, “souvla” is accessible because the one who takes care of the animals is an immigrant, the workers in the slaughterhouse are immigrants, the cook and the carrier are immigrants and the middle class Cypriot can consume cheaper products.

There are definitely examples of local people who are affected by the migration and here is the problem. Usually, if we can imagine something, we consider it much worse than something that could be more painful but more indefinite (availability cascade by Kuran and Sunstein 1999). The image of a local  losing his job and probably his  house, with his children to be afraid for their future, is a bad image that easily comes to our minds when we hear for migration and the ’’stealing of jobs’’ from  foreigners. This image, though, is easily connected with immigrants but when we consume the traditional souvla, none of us associates its cost with the immigrants. The image of the poverty stricken local man is very strong.

Someone could say that. After crisis, when many Cypriots were forced to look for jobs that traditionally were done by immigrants, the displacement of the local people from foreigners hasn’t been worsen? Look at the graph below where the blue shows the migration in Cyprus and the red one the migration of Cypriots to other countries. After the crisis, the advent of foreigners has stopped so the hypothetical problem is solved on its own and it is as we have described it. Immigrants do not move randomly, but targeted where there are necessary as every production factor.

The most important thing is the movement of Cypriots to other countries, which is increased after crisis. It is at least ironic to stand against migrations to Cyprus the same time that when a problem appears we are willing to move to countries with more working opportunities.

Interview: Matina Zisiadou – Coordinator of the ‘’Aware’’ campaign

Nobody becomes a refugee by choice. No one leaves his land and life, nobody leaves his for no reason. Desperate people from all over the world-either because of war or due to poverty- look for a better life, safer living conditions, a future that will be different than the one in their countries. Cyprus can be a homeland for refugees/immigrants, but their country of origin will always be in their heart and mind.

Campaign “Aware” is a Pancyprian campaign that aims at the information of the public and also and to raise awareness for refugees and immigrants.. What exactly does “Aware” do? What does this campaign achieve through its action? The coordinator of the campaign Matina Zisiadou talks to the newspaper “Haravgi” and unfolds aspects of stories of refugees/immigrants, that maybe we can’t understand, or we just reject them.

This is the second year of campaign “Aware” for refugees and immigrants. What is the effect of your campaign to the public?

Last year ended with successful results on the information for refugees and immigrants. Our campaign travelled all over Cyprus, spreading messages of acceptance and diversity. For this year, we have set higher goals.  We want to intensify our efforts in the field of information of the public, emphasizing especially on young people. Our purpose is to bring together Cypriots, refugees and immigrants, to meet, learn and understand each other..

Racism and xenophobia exist and get bigger just because ignorance and misinformation exist for those two vulnerable populations. We want to change this perceptions. Through accurate information and arguments we try to redeem stereotypes and prejudices. We are working on this in many ways, such as through presentations and workshops, informative events, production of documentaries, through our presence in Cypriot media and social networks. We do the best possible to provide adequate and accurate information. We are very pleased that the majority of Cypriots are informed and aware of the problems that refugees and immigrants are dealing with.

Can refugees and immigrants become equal members of our society? What are the perceptions on international and local level?

The integration of refugees and immigrants in our society is a very important part that we want to emphasize on through our campaign. It is self-evident that though integration policies, we can combat stereotypes that are created in both ways.  In Cyprus, integration programs for third country nationals are implemented from many municipalities, aiming to their smooth integration. All these programs, like ours, are co-funded by the Asylum, Integration and Migration fund and the Republic of Cyprus. Through these programs, refugees and immigrants have the chance to learn our language, to develop their skills, and search for a job and better living conditions, to feel welcomed and not foreigners.

I think that in an extraordinary effort is being made by public bodies and institutions. Countries that adopt a holistic policy towards immigrants do not face them as a threat. On the contrary, they have developed a culture where both locals and non-locals co-exist and cooperate for the common good of the country. They face them in a very humanitarian way, no matter the nationality, religion, political or any other beliefs. These successful examples are not only seen in Europebut also in Australia and Canada.

Therefore, it is not possible to leave those people living emarginated. We have to make them part of our lives.. It is very important to understand that multiculturalism is wealth, not just for our society but also for us, as people.

Through your campaign, you are emphasizing on the lives of refugees, asylum seekers, and immigrants. Do you find correspondence in those people? Do they want to take part in your campaigns?

We are in a constant contact with refugees and immigrants. This year we have cooperation with the Association of Recognized Refugees in Cyprus. It is an effort that we do to become more extrovert as a campaign, by bringing to a direct contact these people with Cypriots. We get a positive feedback from them; they feel that they are accepted by our society. Our plan is to involve them in as many actions as possible, especially to those that have a broad attendance, such as the event we are organizing on the occasion of the International Refugee Day in June.

I suppose that you have seen and heard shocking stories from these people. What has been more touching to you?

The experiences carried by refugees and immigrants are unique but at the same time familiar. Every time I hear a story, it makes me think that we, as Cypriots share common experiences, both as refugees and immigrants. There is a phrase that really impressed me. Last year during our campaign, we prepared some documentaries with real stories of an immigrant and a refugee. What touched me was a phrase of Gamini, an immigrant from Sri Lanka who lives and works in Cyprus. He said: “I need money, but what I need more is respect from the people”, nothing more, nothing less. People ask for our respect and our appreciation. I believe that this is something that it can be easily done without much effort from us. By learning about their habits and their way of life, we get closer to them and we eliminate our prejudices.

How many times have you thought that what you do is worth it?

Although that we live in a multicultural county, I feel that there not everyone is showing acceptance to the immigrants and refugees. I feel very lucky that we are a part of this effort to promote acceptance and diversity. We are a team that tries to remain up-to-date with these issues. We want to get better in order to contribute effectively in the battle of any xenophobic beliefs. It gives us hope that the messages that we get are mostly positive. Every time we conduct a seminar or an activity and we see the feedback from the people in what we do, we understand that it is totally worth it.

The fact of unaccompanied children is a shocking story on its own. Do many children arrive in Cyprus unaccompanied?

It really is a shocking story, especially is we think that one in two refugees is a minor. These children have experienced war, many of them have lost both of their parents or they are forced to leave them without knowing when and if they will ever see them again. We know how hard and difficult this is for all the people, let alone a child who survives this kind of journey on its own. In Cyprus we currently have 154 unaccompanied children.

Due to the fact that unaccompanied children are a vulnerable group of people in the already vulnerable group of refugees, there is a need for further support. School and education have a primary role in this purpose. The initiative of the Pedagogical Institute in Cyprus is remarkable. It implements a program that has to do with the education of the teachers on the handling of children who have experienced migration. Finally, I have to mention that the contribution of the organization Hope for Children is very important. It provides sheltering, food, education and psychological support to these children.

Can their world be ours? Can we create a society without discriminations?

This totally depends on us. It is in our hands to let them in our world and to become a part of theirs. We have to process all the information that we receive very carefully and to be able to evaluate them. As I said before, ignorance and misinformation are the reasons behind racist beliefs. We have to show acceptance to these people. This is the only way to build a society, a world without discriminations.

Activities of the Aware Campaign for the European Week against Racism

Last week, the activities of the Aware Campaign for the European Week against Racism peaked, aiming the information and the awareness of the public for issues related with refugees, immigrants and asylum seekers in Cyprus. Through its presence in the media and with its participation to many events, the campaign sent a powerful message against racism.

Last Wednesday, a press briefing took place at the Journalists House, where there was a presentation of projects combating racism. The minister of Education and Culture Costas Hampiaouris who attended the conference, welcomed the event with a speech.

Additionally, last Saturday the campaign organized a live link at the Faneromeni Square, in collaboration with the radio station Kanali 6.  At the same time, members of the campaign were informing the public about the migration and refugee crisis by distributing the informational leaflet of the campaign. The head of the campaign, Kyriakos Pieridis, stressed the issue of the unaccompanied children who arrived to our country the last years and the responsibility of our society to protect them. The last years, more than 200 unaccompanied minors reached Cyprus from Syria and other. The President of the Recognized Refugees in Cyprus, Willy Totoro attended the event.

During the week, the short videos of the campaign were promoted by the TV Channels and members of the campaign gave interviews on radio stations, sending a message of solidarity and acceptance.

The “Aware” campaign has a pancyprian range and it includes various communication actions such as, the production of movies and short documentaries, seminars, events and workshops in schools and universities, congresses, lectures and other events.

Institutions, schools and society against racism

The presentation of programs that stand against racism and discriminations was projected by the information and awareness campaign for refugees and immigrants “Aware” during the press briefing that took place at the Journalists House.

The Minister of Education and Culture Costas Hampiaouris, at this speech, emphasized the actions that Ministry takes to battle racist phenomena. A particular reference was given to the “Behavioral Code against Racism” and the actions for integration of children with a migration background in Cypriot educational system.

The head of the “Aware” Campaign, Kyriakos Pieridis, referred to the outgoing character of the campaign, which is implemented for second consecutive year. Campaign includes, among others, seminars and workshops in the secondary and education as well as universities, media promotion, production of documentaries and other actions that involve youth, which is the main team of interest of the campaign.

The director of the Pedagogical Institute Athena Michaelidou, referred to the efforts that the Pedagogical Institute does in order to educate the teachers on the handling of children who have experienced migration. Mrs. Michaelidou mentioned the importance of these programs, not only for children but also for teachers and parents, especially emphasizing on the actions that are related to the leaning of the Greek language.

Mrs. Christina Markou, Coordinator of the department of Protection of Child in the organization “Hope for Children”, referred to the unaccompanied minors, a category of children who are extremely vulnerable and they have to be protected from the government. Mrs. Markou referred to the hosting place of the unaccompanied children and she presented the adoption program of unaccompanied children in Cyprus.

The “Aware” campaign is a co-funded program by the Asylum, Integration and Migration Fund and the Republic of Cyprus.

Berlin welcomes the success of an EU-Turkey agreement in the refugee

“The deal has significantly reduced deaths in the Aegean, and has improved the conditions for millions of Syrian refugees”

The success of the EU – Turkey agreement in the refugee to tackle irregular immigration and improve the living conditions of refugee migrants was welcomed by the German government on Monday.

“For the German government, this is a common success for both Europe and Turkey,” Chancellor Angela Merkel’s representative said at a press conference in Berlin.

“After this agreement, fewer people died in the Aegean while they were trying to enter Greece,” Steffen Zebert said.

“With regard to the second important outcome of the agreement, the living conditions of more than two million refugees in Turkey, most of whom are Syrians, have been greatly improved through various projects supported by EU financial assistance,” added Zeebert. In this context, he underlined that Germany will continue to support the agreement.

In March 2016, the EU and Turkey agreed to take tighter anti-trafficking measures, prevent irregular migration through the Aegean Sea and improve the conditions of Turkish refugees.

Despite the recent political tensions between Ankara and European capitals, Merkel has rejected the calls of the German opposition to suspend Turkey’s EU membership talks and backed a policy dialogue with Ankara.

To this direction, EU leaders and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan are expected to meet at the Varna Summit in Bulgaria on 26 March.

As Steffen Webert pointed out, the Chancellor and Interior Minister agreed that it is now necessary to extend the control of the German border.

It is noted that on February 14, the Commission launched the “green light” for a second economic package of € 3 billion to help Turkey take on Syrian refugees on its territory, as promised two years ago under the European Union – Turkey agreement for refugees. This, however, did not prevent Tayyip Erdogan from launching a fierce attack on the Europeans two days later:

“We host 3.5 million refugees from Syria … You begged us not to open the doors… if we do it, you’ll be scrambled to find a hiding hole. Decide at last what you want! ”

 

Source: http://www.skai.gr