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Refugees say death is their only option now

Refugees say death is their only option now Muhammad Altaf and Asadollah Panahimehr

By Constantinos Psillides

TWO Iranian-born citizens, who have been on a hunger strike for 46 days, informed Interior Minister Socratis Hasikos in an open letter that as of Tuesday they would stop taking liquids, unless they are granted citizenship so they can leave Cyprus.

Muhammad Altaf and Asadollah Panahimehr camped outside the interior ministry for over a month but no one is listening to their story, they said.

The two Iranians would be joined on Tuesday by Panahimehr’s wife Mehrangiz Hematmand and friend Salah Chanim who are also going on a hunger strike. The two men said in their open letter that they would not leave unless their petition was addressed by the state.

“The government of the Republic of Cyprus has pushed us to die or to commit suicide, which under these conditions seems like our only and best option, since the option to live a life in dignity in Cyprus has been taken away from us.

Under these conditions, we prefer to die instead to continue living in the conditions we are living now,” the open letter says.

All the petitioners are recognised refugees, having fled their countries out of fear for their lives and the lives of their family members.

According to the letter, Muhammad Altaf has petitioned to be granted citizenship or long term residency for over ten years but he still hasn’t received an answer.

“We strongly believe that we have undertaken all the appropriate measures and actions needed in order to solve our problems by ourselves and at the same time we have followed all the necessary procedures when help was needed by the competent authorities. Unfortunately, all those authorities which had the responsibility to help us solve our problems, ignored us and treated us with undignified ways, ways that would normally cause shame to any democratic country of the 21st century, like the Republic of Cyprus claims to be,” the letter says.

Altaf and the others make it clear that they are not interested in being handed money or staying in Cyprus.

“We would like to make clear once again that we do not ask for money or jobs. We are only asking to give us a residency status (citizenship or long term residency), which will truly enable us to live equally with Cypriot and other European citizens in the European Union, while at the same time it will allow us to leave the country in order to save our lives and families. However, the government of the Republic of Cyprus has been denying this residency status, without even providing us with a straightforward answer to our repeated requests”.

The Cyprus Mail contacted Asadollah’s son Sina, who shared his family history.

According to Sina, who is a student at the Higher Hotel Institute, he, his parents and his older brother Aidin came to Cyprus in 2003 after they fled their country. His father was immediately arrested and put to jail for five months without being charged. The authorities let his father free after he went on a 74-day hunger strike.

He found employment as a construction worker but was let go after the financial crisis hit. He has been unemployed for almost three years. ‘There’s no job for him. Nobody hires any more,” Sina says.

Sina’s mother Hematmand used to work for a former supermarket chain but had to leave to stay at home after Aidin committed suicide on November 16, 2011. Hematmand went back to work but was downgraded to a part-time employee. She was finally let go three months before the supermarket declared bankruptcy.

Sina says that he has written and visited numerous government agencies throughout the years to plead the case of his family but he has received no answer. “I have also written to European countries embassies, like Sweden and England. No answer from them either. We have also tried various media outlets in Cyprus. Still no response,” he says.

Concluding in their open letter, the four recognised refugees plead with Hasikos asking him not to let them die. If that happens, they included a last demand in their letter.

“Our last demand to the government of the Republic of Cyprus is to deliver our dead bodies to our families and beloved persons”, they write.

The Cyprus Mail contacted the Interior Minister, who said that he was aware of the situation and would act on it next week. “One way or another, we will resolve this issue next week,” Hasikos replied.

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