By Waylon Fairbanks
SOME 87 per cent of refugees in Cyprus said they would leave if they could as they saw no way of improving their lives on the island, according to a new survey
The report entitled ‘Needs of Refugees and the Integration Process’ was a joint effort between the Cyprus Office of the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) and the NGO Index: Research and Dialogue.
It found that Cyprus was failing to fulfill its obligations to refugees and that the quality of life for the island’s 3,631refguees did not reflect the equality guaranteed by the Refugee Law of 2000.
According to the report, while refugees with International Protection (IP) are legally entitled to equal rights, in practice the vulnerable group faces discriminatory practices from Cypriot institutions. Refugees reported complications receiving employment and welfare, especially since the economic crisis.
The authors of the survey, Index: Research and Dialogue’s Dr David Officer and Dr Yiouli Taki, argued that the inability of refugees to find work, caused a devastating structural problem in which refugees were isolated from critical support groups that facilitate integration into Cypriot society. This feedback loop then causes more refugee dependence on state welfare and less assimilation.
The report contained both statistical data and qualitative data from the 192-person target group. The questionnaire revealed extremely low levels of trust for institutions, as well as perceived maltreatment.
The refugees often referred to Cyprus as a “trap” that barred them from improving their lives. When asked if they would leave if they could, 87 percent of the refugees said ‘yes’.
At a news conference yesterday, the authors reiterated the double-standards by which civil servants treat refugees, and how the arbitrary treatment creates distrust.
“I am afraid to go to welfare and ask them anything,” said one Iranian interviewee from the report. “I do not want to bother them because I am afraid they will find an excuse to close my file.”
Of the official refugees, and others with subsidiary protection, almost half are Palestinian. Non-Palestinian Iraqis make up the second largest group around 18 per cent, and Iranians are third around 12 per cent. A myriad of other nationalities comprises the remaining 20 per cent. Although refugees cited neighbours as the group that treats them best, the interviews still revealed common discrimination.
“My mother wears a hijab [veil] and sometimes when we walk with her mostly young people insult her,” claimed an Iraqi Palestinian. “They hate Muslims here because of the Turks. It makes life for us harder.”
The study was conducted between June and October 2012. Officer said that although the consequences of the economic crisis were only beginning to show in the data, the deepening of the crisis has disproportionately affected the refugees.
Some 44 per cent of refugees are currently unemployed compared to the average jobless rate in Cyprus of 17 per cent.
The report provided recommendations for Cyprus to resolve the issues at hand. The authors were careful to not provide idealistic solutions, but rather practical advice that takes into account the financial problems.
The report recommended, among nine key recommendations, a more analytical approach to the forthcoming Integration plan, which “takes account of the specific needs of specific groups,” and that front-line workers in key institutions are made aware of refugee rights.