By Poly Pantelides
THE Children’s Rights Commissioner has called on the migration department to stop taking the law into its own hands and wants to see an end to the illegal practice of separating families.
Leda Koursoumba told the Cyprus Mail that for more than three years she has been forced to step in to set right the “flagrant violations of children’s rights”. Over the years, she has intervened when children of migrants – often here legally or waiting on their asylum application – were deprived of both their parents or when the families’ breadwinner was arrested. The process of arresting someone for deportation must be reserved for exceptional circumstances, she said.
Earlier this week, Koursoumba received a report by the lawyer of a mother – an Afghan asylum seeker – currently detained with her 14-month-old daughter in a cramped holding cell that is unsuitable to hold a family.
“I’ve asked to be informed about how welfare services have acted in this case and what is going on,” she said. A good Samaritan has been doing the woman’s laundry and washing baby clothes, even though the Afghan woman felt ashamed.
“She told me, ‘all I can go back to is the Taliban’.”
“A xenophobic climate is being created alongside the crisis and also because of politicians’ statements… and we forget there are children involved,” Koursoumba said.
“We also forget that we brought migrants to the country to take on the jobs we would not do and that as a state we place a huge importance on human rights.”
She was referring to Cyprus’ decades-old appeal to the international community and the irrevocable human rights of the Greek Cypriots, violated as a result of a 1974 Turkish invasion and occupation.
“The continuation and wholeness of our sovereign entity is based on human rights. As a state we complain about the violation of human rights,” Koursoumba said. “So we must respect the rule of law.”
Instead, Cyprus pays lip service to these rights, she said.
During a recent workshop on the demographic and migration problem in Cyprus, interior minister Socrates Hasikos said legal migration could play a social, cultural and financial role in lifting the country up. But he also said Cyprus had been turned into a destination country for legal and illegal migrants and was worried about “neighbourhoods in city centres turning into ghettos” calling for better integration of legal migrants in Cypriot society.
His speech focused on the financial burden for migrants and did not give any data about their financial contributions.
Koursoumba told the Mail the same stories keep getting repeated. She has recently sent another letter after a three-year-old child was left without her parents who are now both under arrest.
The migration department said the marriage between the EU citizen, a Bulgarian woman, and her Pakistani husband, had been one of convenience because she had been pregnant when they married. Their child was in fact born eleven months later. Koursoumba has also intervened twice on behalf of a 15-year-old living alone because her Chinese parents are held in detention.
“It keeps going on,” she said.
The migration department has refused to comment.
Even EU citizens struggle to convince authorities they are not out to scrounge off benefits. Carmella Hijazie, a British national has been living in Cyprus for six years with her Lebanese husband, Fadel. Their youngest son, Luca, was just a month old when Fadel was detained for deportation in March. Fadel is not an asylum seeker.
Over the years, he contributed to state coffers by paying his social insurance. Eight months after his arrest, a Supreme Court judge overruled the migration department’s arrest and deportation order. Carmella said that officials were waiting outside the court with a fresh order and Fadel is now in hiding while his lawyer is trying to ascertain the legality and grounds of the new order.
The family is now reunited but they are watching their back. Nonetheless, Carmella told the Cyprus Mail by email it was a joy to see her babies smile. “I never thought this day would come. It feels like I’m dreaming,” she said. Her husband said he was still afraid of immigration coming to find him even though his lawyer told him he was “not an illegal in Cyprus”.
“Just living each day as it comes and hoping it never happens again,” Fadel said.