By Constantinos Psillides
FOUR political refugees have resumed a hunger strike they abandoned in January outside the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNCHR) offices in Nicosia, demanding that they be granted residency so they can leave the island and seek employment in other countries.
The refugees, three men and a woman, called off a 52-day hunger strike on January 11 when Interior Minister Socratis Hasikos promised that their applications would be examined as a priority and that they will receive answers soon.
According to one of the refugees, Muhammad Aldaf, the government promised to respond within a few weeks but has failed to do so. They were then told that they would receive an answer by May 15.
“We have heard nothing from the government. They are stalling. They don’t want us here, they don’t want to grant us our human rights. We have been on the island for 15 years and still not granted citizenship or residency. They left us with no other way to go. We exhausted all legal means. This is the only thing we are left with,” said Aldaf, who comes from the Pakistani-controlled area of Kashmir.
The four said that the only reason that they ended their last hunger strike was because they were led to believe that their applications would receive favourable treatment by the Immigration Department.
“We want nothing from the government. Nothing. We don’t want benefits, we don’t want any money, and we don’t want any jobs. What we want is to be able to leave. We are recognised political refugees who fled our countries. What we want is to be able to move to another EU country, where we have family and friends. Nothing more,” added Aldaf.
A UNCHR representative visited the hunger strikers and heard their demands, promising that they will do everything in their power to help.
The Interior Ministry has not yet responded to the hunger strikers demand.
Immigrant support group KISA issued a statement asking the ministry and the UNCHR to work together and “address the just demands of the hunger strikers” and to immediately review state policy on granting recognised refugee status.