IN A RATIONAL world the memorandum and big problems facing our economy could have been used as a good opportunity to radically re-think state spending policies. Nothing justified a re-think more than the antiquated financial assistance offered to citizens classified by the state as refugees.
Thirty-nine years have passed since the Turkish invasion and forcible eviction of these people from their homes. Those genuinely in need of help to re-build their lives were assisted by the state, through housing loans and the provision of plots of land to build on while others were given apartments in refugee estates (including title deeds, subsequently) or Turkish Cypriot-owned houses that had been vacated; other benefits were also offered.
All these assistance programmes should have been phased out many years ago, but not one of our politicians would ever dare make such an unpopular proposal because refugee organisations not only represented tens of thousands of votes but also wielded big influence over all the political parties. State assistance to refugees has always been a sacred cow, and instead of it being streamlined politicians kept increasing the payouts and expanding the number of people eligible for assistance.
Refugee status became a hereditary right and in the last few years we had big protests, because only refugee fathers could pass on this status to their children. Refugee mothers argued, correctly, that this was discrimination and all the political parties supported the demand that their children should also be entitled to state handouts, subsidised housing loans, etc. Everyone wanted to get on the refugee gravy train.
For this year, the memorandum reduced the €108m budget for housing loans by 35 per cent and the interior ministry has been forced to cut approved loans by 15 per cent and new ones by 25 per cent; it has also scrapped schemes for the construction of more refugee homes and the granting of plots of land. But the ministry is still offering assistance of €37,500 to refugees with an annual income of up to €60,000 that want to buy a three-bedroom house or flat.
Surely people with such a big income should not be entitled to any state help, even if one of their parents was a refugee. If the government wanted to help, it would have been more socially just to give this level of assistance to a non-refugee with an annual income of €20,000. And why are refugees on an annual income of €40,000 entitled to a €10,000 grant for house repairs? These grants are indefensible in a bankrupt state.
The government would do well to suspend all housing assistance schemes for refugees now and use the €70m for supporting the long-term unemployed, who cannot afford to feed themselves or their families. Payment of unemployment benefit for just six months is not good enough in current conditions. The politicians must understand that people with a ‘refugee ID’, on annual incomes of 40 or 60 thousand euro, should be receiving nothing from the state, because there are much poorer citizens that now need to be helped by the state.