Cyprus Mail

Threat to report Red Cross over Syrian camp withdrawal

By Evie Andreou

After Syrian refugees have had their supply and help lines cut, director of the immigrant support group KISA said on Tuesday he will report the Cyprus Red Cross to the International Committee of the Red Cross.

Following the withdrawal on Saturday of all government services from the reception centre in Kokkinotrimithia that hosts around 200 Syrian refugees living in tents, the Red Cross was told that they could no longer provide humanitarian assistance.

After the insistence of some members, it was decided that some Red Cross volunteers would visit the camp daily to observe the situation and respond in case of an emergency.

“Organisations that provide humanitarian aid cannot receive orders from governments. The Red Cross has its own mandate; no state has the power to tell them what to do,” Doros Polykarpou told the Cyprus Mail.

“If they are not allowed to distribute aid, how can they actually help the refugees, how exactly is the Red Cross present there?” he added.

The withdrawal of government services means the refugees now need to fend for themselves as well as moving on as their three-month temporary residence permits have expired. They have access to running water and electricity until the end of January all the tents they are being housed in are to be packed up.

Polykarpou said the government’s tactic to practically force the refugees to apply for asylum by letting them starve is inhumane and dangerous.

“Since yesterday three families got in touch with a smuggler that got them out of the country through the north,” Polykarpou said.

The majority of the refugees are reluctant to apply for asylum because Cyprus was not their desired destination and if they are then turned down they will be unable to bring their family members over from Syria.

Only ten Syrians have been granted refugee status since the war begun in Syria. The majority of the applicants receive the subsidiary protection status, which allows them to stay here but with different rights.

Polycarpou said last Thursday the refugees handed a memo to the interior ministry with 200 signatures saying that they were willing to apply for asylum as long as they received the refugee status.

“The government instead of answering their demand closed the camp down,” Polykarpou said.

The interior ministry said last week that the refugees’ “reflection period” was over and they had to legalise their presence on the island.

The refugees, 337 in total, were rescued off the coast of Paphos in September after the boat they were sailing in en route to Italy was caught in rough seas. Some have acquired visas to other countries and some have left the country one way or another.

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