Twenty-five or so Palestinian asylums seekers who had their initial applications rejected and are waiting for responses to their appeals sat inside the main gates of the interior ministry on Wednesday demanding to see the minister.
“We arrived on two boats about a year ago,” Khalid Jaber told the Cyprus Mail. “Some of our group received asylum, while we were rejected” he explained saying that the group, which included a number of women and children, had made their way earlier in the day from the Kofinou reception centre used to house asylum seekers.
The Palestinians, all from the Shatila in Lebanon, had arrived at the ministry and sat down inside the main gate at around 10.45am, saying they would not budge until they were allowed to see the minister.
An interior ministry official said he had asked them to make a written application of what they wanted, to see what could be done but that they had insisted on staying within the gates of the ministry. The group would not initially identify themselves to the police who patiently tried explain to them that they were not doing their cause any good through their refusal to leave.
The official said he was trying to simply find out “who these people are, what do they want and what is their complaint?” something that was not easy, especially since communicating seemed to be a problem.
An attempt by a female interior ministry official to communicate with them, she said resulted in her being told by some of them that they did not speak to women.
Eventually the group gave their names and details to plainclothes police who arrived at the scene, after which they moved to an area opposite the ministry gates.
Interior ministry spokesman Michalakis Christodoulides, who arrived at around 1pm told the Cyprus Mail that the authorities would be looking into the group’s claims, saying he “came here in person to meet the people and get information on them to be able to examine them on a case by case basis in order to be able to inform the minister.”
Hamadi Khalid Khalil, a baker by trade, told the Cyprus Mail through Jaber, the only one in the group who spoke English, that he and the others had a lot to offer to the country but were not allowed to work without papers, “We don’t want money, we want to work. We have a lot to give to Cyprus. All I want is a paper,” he said.
His frustration was echoed by Jaber who said most of them were educated and had abilities, “We all have skills and could do something useful for this country. I can fix mobiles and do electrical work and there are plumbers and other tradesmen among us,” he said. “We want to find work, pay taxes to the country. Most of us are educated and want a chance to make a living.”
Though the group, who say they are refugees from persecution had made appeals to their asylum rejections which Jaber said should have been responded to months ago, they have yet to receive a reply within the two-month period he believes they were obliged to respond in.
A letter dating back to June this year from the interior ministry, made available to the Cyprus Mail by one of the asylum seekers and his family made clear the reasons for rejecting their initial application.
Jaber said the group had arrived with a number of others in two boatloads of around 115 people in each in September and October of last year. “We came from hell and are being taken to hell,” he said.
Jaber described the Kofinou reception centre, home to them for the last year or so as “Dirty, there are 114 of us with only two showers and two toilets working. It’s disgusting. It has been over a year and we have been eating chicken and rice every day.”
The group had not made up their minds as to what their next move would be. They said they had made their way to Nicosia by bus were unsure whether they would be heading back to Kofinou or sleeping under the eucalyptus trees in the parking area opposite the entrance to the interior ministry.