By Evie Andreou
CLOSE to breaking point, and devastated by the recent death of one of their own, some 60 Syrian refugees from the 337 rescued off the coast in September en route to Italy are tired of waiting, they said during a protest they held yesterday outside the House.
The death of the 25-year-old man – he was found hanged in a park near the presidential palace on Friday – motivated the refugees from the Kokkinotrimithia camp to take to the streets, they said.
There are currently 241 people at the refugee camp out of the 337 that were originally rescued. On arrival in Cyprus they were given temporary residence permits and told that the camp was going to close down by December 28. It hasn’t and there is still no official word. The refugees have on several occasions been told to apply for asylum but most want to go to mainland Europe.
Yesterday the 60 or so, including several children, gathered outside the parliament at around noon holding placards and chanting ‘No tents’, ‘Save Us’” and ‘We want to live in a safe country’. They said that they would protest every day until a state official agreed to meet with them. All they want it to be reunited with their relatives in other European countries, they said.
Omar, a man in his twenties who would only give his first name, said that around two weeks ago, several people from the camp had been deceived by a man who had initially travelled with them from Syria. They paid him around €4,000 each after he promised he could get them off the island and into mainland Europe. He then took off with the money.
Omar said people had called their relatives in Syria and Europe in order to collect the money so they could leave Cyprus and now they had nothing.
He also said he death of the 25-year-old made the refugees feel they were not safe.
“We have been there for three months and we want a solution; a few days ago one of us died; we don’t know if he was killed or committed suicide, we are not sure, we need to know what happened,” said Ihab, another man in his twenties.
He said the refugees were tired of just sitting and waiting and that there were many educated people among the refugees who were able and willing to work but there was no opportunity for them to do so in Cyprus due to the economic crisis.
Omar explained how desperate they were to leave the tents and how bad for everyone’s morale the situation was.
He said he applied for a six-month residence permit about a month ago in order to get a pink slip and seek employment but the authorities keep postponing issuing the document.
“Other people applied for this residence permit a few weeks earlier than me but they did not receive anything yet,” Omar said. He added that not everyone could afford to apply since there was a €70 fee for the application.
The refugees also complained about the state of the camp. “Water runs through the tent when it rains. It is cold and there also rats and mice running in the tents” said Nahi, an 11 year-old boy who lives there with his mother, while his father is still in Syria.
Another man stopped by to say that they were grateful to Cyprus for saving their lives but they did not want to live in tents any longer but wanted to leave.
Omar said that their everyday life has been without a purpose for the last three months.
“Every day we come to the city with buses, there is a street here in Nicosia where there is an Arab community, we walk in it, we connect to the internet, then we go back to the camp, we just eat, sleep and nothing more,” he said.
He said the majority of the refugees at the camp were Palestinian Syrians and that their only way out of the country was illegal since their travel documents are valid only for Syria.
“We ran away through Turkey and there we met some people that said they would carry us to Italy in boats or ships,” Omar said. He said that each paid US$ 6,000, (€4,900) even the children.
“When we arrived in Limassol we were told that the Red Cross and Civil Defence were waiting for us and that we would go to hotels where we could eat and rest but when we saw the tents a woman fell on the ground crying and shouting saying ‘we ran from death and now we were will endure a slow death, here at the camp’” said Omar.
He said that many like him fled Syria because they did not want to choose a side.
“It’s like hell… you either have to fight or you end up in jail, or you go missing and no one knows where you are,” he added.
“We just need a normal life like any other human being. We want to study, to work, to make something good out of this life.”
To apply for asylum, Omar said, they needed to produce documents from Syria, which was not easy.
He said they wanted to leave Cyprus because they were not granted full refugee status and are not able to bring their relatives, some of whom are still in war-torn Syria.
Only five people have applied for asylum and are now in the Kofinou reception centre while three unaccompanied children are in Larnaca under the care of social welfare services.
Several of the refugees have managed to leave the country legal and otherwise.
No officials at the interior ministry could be reached yesterday to comment on the protest.