By Peter Stevenson
FOUR political refugees who had camped outside the interior ministry, asking to be granted citizenship or residency, have called off their hunger strike after receiving assurances from Interior Minister Socratis Hasikos that their cases would be studied.
During a meeting on Friday between Hasikos and Damtew Dessalegne, representative of the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR), the petitioners said they had been guaranteed that their cases would be evaluated as soon as possible.
“We were given assurances that our applications would be studied which we need more than ever because without these papers our lives are very difficult,” one of the strikers, Muhammad Altaf told the Sunday Mail.
Altaf added that all they were asking for was to be recognised as political refugees so they could get on with our lives.
“I still have pain in my stomach from going on a hunger strike and it is a very dangerous way of trying to make our voices heard but we were left with no other option,” he said.
“I would like to thank the UNHCR and Damtew Dessalenge for intervening and helping us receive assurances and we will be very grateful if our problem is finally resolved,” he said.
Migrant support group KISA said that the interior minister led them to believe that the refugees had good reason to feel that their cases would have positive outcomes.
“They made it clear to authorities though that if promises are not kept then they will take stronger actions,” KISA said.
The four Iranians are political refugees, having fled their countries out of fear for their lives and that of their family members.
“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,” one of the strikers said.
The four hunger strikers are 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.
Altaf and Asadollah stopped drinking water on Tuesday and were joined in their hunger strike by Asadollah’s wife, Mehrangiz Hematmand.