By Emilia Christofi
The role of the diaspora is of crucial significance, Presidential Commissioner for Humanitarian Matters and Overseas Affairs, Fotis Fotiou told CNA, noting that at the same time, youth has a key role to play by undertaking crucial positions in their countries and promoting the Cyprus causes.
In an interview with CNA on the occasion of the 8th World Conference of the Organization of Young Overseas Cypriots (NEPOMAK) and the 26th meeting of the Central Council of the World Federation of Overseas Cypriots and International Coordinating Committee’s “Justice for Cyprus” POMAK – PSEKA from 26-28 July in Nicosia, Fotiou said that the role of our overseas Cypriots during all these years is of defining significance and especially during difficult times, like after the Turkish invasion and post financial crisis”.
“The contribution of our expatriates in the struggles of Cyprus is great, and as government and state we owe a big thank you to these people because for years they have supported the struggles of the Greek Cypriots and continue to support them”, he said, adding “their heart is closer to Cyprus than ours and they indeed should be congratulated”.
Referring to the overseas Cypriots’ conference, Fotiou said that it is very important as it primarily aims to inform our expatriates on the latest developments, especially on the Cyprus problem and to be briefed by the President of the Republic and the Foreign Minister. He said they will also me informed on the energy developments, the economy and other issues. At the same time, it will give expatriates` organisations the chance to meet and exchange views, suggestions so that coordination through the central council becomes more effective.
He paid special emphasis on the significance of cooperation with other diasporas, especially the Jewish and Armenian diaspora so that Cyprus can benefit from their experiences in participation at decision making centres.
Regarding Young Overseas Cypriots, Fotiou said that in a few years` time they will undertake a leading role in expatriates issues.
“We pay special emphasis on the young people, the new generation during the conference. The new generation in a few years` time will undertake a leading role on diaspora issues. And we ar trying to promote our youth to enter the politics of their countries so that they will be able to support their native countries from significant posts overseas. And we do have a number of notable young people who we need to work with”, he added.
Fotiou said that a number of programmes are underway for young overseas Cypriots. There are programmes giving them the chance to visit Cyprus at different ages so that they can learn their native country, its customs and traditions and most of all, its language. “This is what we need to do if we really want the second, third and fourth generation to continue its traditions”, he added.
The aim, he said, is to “integrate the experience of people already in leadership positions of expatriates` organisations, and who will remain in those positions for more years, with the new generation so that they can take over”.
Fotiou also said that in collaboration with the Open University of Cyprus expatriate youth ages 14-30, can learn the Greek language or history through distance learning programmes. “There is great interest from these young people to get to know their native country”, he added.
He also said young overseas Cypriots can gain experience in the public service in Cyprus through an internship programme, something that they have proposed themselves.
For all this, the support of the Church of Cyprus is very significant”, Fotiou said, adding that in London and New York, the Church plays a very important role for these people. “Without the help of the Church, I do not think we could have kept these people close to their native countries”, he added.
Regarding the National Strategy for The Diaspora Communities, Fotiou said that when he undertook office, one of the issues he discussed with Foreign Minister Ioannis Kasoulides and Government Spokesman Nikos Christodoulides is that it was “high time to create a strategy that will have short, medium and long term goals, have specific mandate and we presented this strategy to the overseas Cypriots for feedback and to all government services and ministries”.
He said the strategy sets forth aims and how to better utilize the role of overseas Greeks, especially at decision making centres at the countries where they reside so that they can better help their native land and how the Church, which has a defining role, cab help more”.
The strategy also contains a detailed chapter on young overseas Cypriots, he said.
For the first time, he added, we are setting aims to fully utilize our business people who live overseas, notable business people who love their country and see how they can help or invest in their native country or by marketing Cyprus overseas.
Already, there has been a forum held in the UK and another one is scheduled for New York and then South Africa, so that we can present to these expatriate business people and their foreign associates what Cyprus means and the advantages it now offers for investments.
At the same time, he said, it is important that through this strategy, we can cooperate with other diaspora such as the Jewish and Armenian diaspora which have a lot of experience and are at decision making centres, so we can benefit from their experiences and by uniting with them promote the interests of our country overseas.
Fotiou said that an agreement for cooperation between Cyprus, Israel and Greece is in the making and for this reason he recently visited Israel. An Israeli government official will address the overseas Cypriots` conference for the first time. He also said that cooperation on diaspora issues with Greece, Cyprus and Israel might be raised during the trilateral leaders` next meeting.
Furthermore, he said that young people will carry out visits to the three countries or even hold common events.
Fotiou talked about possible ventures between business people from the diaspora with Israel and a conference will be held in November or December in Jerusalem in an effort to bring them closer and see how they can promote the interests of the tripartite cooperation.
He further said that Cyprus needs to learn how Israel works with its own diaspora. “We must admit that the Jewish diaspora is very strong and if Israel is strong it is due to its strong diaspora that supports its native country in many ways. Our diaspora does an excellent job but it needs to be further strengthened and we have to get the young people in this too”, he added.
According to Fotiou, Cyprus will also sign in the near future, an agreement with Armenia which also has extensive experience on diaspora issues.
Referring to the business forum that are being held in cooperation with the Cyprus Chamber of Commerce and Industry and the Cyprus Investment Promotion Agency (CIPA), Fotiou said the first forum took place in London and another one is scheduled in New York before the end of year. Another one is scheduled in 2017 in South Africa. We do not merely want to attract our expatriates to invest but they can get their foreign associates to come to Cyprus” to see the prospects of investing here”, he added.