Cyprus Mail

Day 52 for Iranian hunger strikers

The Iranian political refugees camped outside the Interior Ministry

By Constantinos Psillides

AS THEY enter day 52 of their hunger strike and the fourth day without water, Iranian political refugees who are camped outside the Interior Ministry asking to be granted citizenship or residency, warn that they won’t back down.

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

“I’d rather die here than give up. We can’t live like that anymore”, one of the strikers told the Cyprus Mail, pointing out that they just want what they are entitled to by international law. “We are recognised political refugees. We fled our countries, some of us over ten years ago. We have been trying to get long term residency status or citizenship for years, so we can move legally to other European countries. We have friends and family in Belgium, Netherlands, Germany and other countries. Some of us just want to leave, not stay here. We don’t want money. We are qualified, we want to work and contribute”, he said.

The four hunger strikers are Muhammad Altaf and Asadollah Panahimehr, who have been camped out at the Ministry of Interior for over a month, and friend Salah Chanim who joined them recently.

Aldaf and Asadollah stopped drinking water on Tuesday and were joined in their hunger strike by Asadollah’s wife Mehrangiz Hematmand.

The strikers were visited yesterday by Damtew Dessalegne, representative of the United Nations High Commission for Refugees, who expressed his sympathy and support for their cause.

Interior Minister Socratis Hasikos, who had had denied a meeting with the refugees in the past, issued a statement saying that their petition would be addressed “when it’s their turn”. The minister made it clear that the refugees won’t receive any special treatment due to their actions. “They filed a claim on February 16, 2013. We will process it, when it is their turn”, he said.

The minister also commented on the fact that one of the refugees, who has been out of work for three years, hasn’t registered with the unemployment office. Hasikos claims that the man refuses to register because the office won’t find him a job fitting his qualifications. “The Interior ministry cannot ensure that anyone, local or immigrant, would be given a job according to his qualifications”, he remarked.

The man in question, Altaf, is a software engineer and said he was told he could only work on farms.

The strikers seem to be in relatively good condition, although a volunteer doctor from KISA (an immigrant rights NGO) who checked up on them expressed concerns.

The UNCHR representative pleaded with the refugees to cease the hunger strike, promising that he will ask as an intermediary with the government to resolve their issue.

“People should not resort to hunger strikes or similar drastic measures in order to bring their concerns to the attention of the decision-makers and the best way to address the gaps and shortcomings in existing legislation, policy and practice would be through continuous dialogue between refugees and the authorities”

The strikers were also visited by a delegation from AKEL, lead by MP Skevi Koukouma who promised that their plea would be discussed at the House Human Rights committee. In a statement issued yesterday, Koukouma asked the Interior Minister to address the strikers claims, adding that if he doesn’t care maybe “he should consider the international backlash this case would have for the government”.

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