New interior minister Constantinos Petrides on Tuesday pledged a series of benefits to refugees and displaced persons, in an apparent break with the policy of his predecessor.
Attending House refugees committee for the first time the since assuming the interior ministry portfolio, Petrides unveiled government plans to increase rent subsidies, raise the income threshold criteria, as well as freeze for three years the rents paid by Greek-Cypriot refugees living in Turkish-Cypriot homes.
Addressing MPs, Petrides said that should the president’s efforts in Switzerland to achieve a settlement on Cyprus not come to fruition, then in 2018 the government intends to overhaul its policy on refugee housing so as to “correct current distortions.”
The state’s refugee housing policy should not be seen as handouts, he said, but rather as providing “the bare essentials to these people so they can live in dignity until such time as they can return to their homes in the north.”
Currently, there are some 280,000 individuals registered as refugees.
Petrides said the government has asked the attorney-general to provide a legal opinion on the intended increase in rent subsidisation and relaxing the income criteria.
The government has decided to increase its budget for rent subsidies to €8.4 million in 2018, from €7.7 million allocated this year.
The income criteria will be raised from €19,546 to €30,000, and for large families from €25,561 to €45,000.
The rent subsidy will go up from €133 a month to €180; and from €214 to €260 for large families.
Petrides said that today there are some 61,000 hectares of Turkish-Cypriot land in the south.
Each year the state collects €3 million from rents on Turkish-Cypriot properties – a negligible amount when compared to the market value of the rents, the minister said.
Petrides’ predecessor Socratis Hasikos, who resigned in May, had raised rents payable by Greek-Cypriot users of Turkish-Cypriot properties.
The rent increase on those properties had been introduced last year as part of a plan by the interior ministry – that acts as the guardian of Turkish Cypriot properties – aimed at amending outdated procedures and introducing a fairer distribution of Turkish Cypriot property to beneficiaries.
The move was deemed necessary after it emerged that many who hold such properties – especially business establishments in places like Larnaca – sublet them, often at inflated rates.
The decision was met with discontent by many tenants who found the rent increase unfair because they had spent a lot of money over the years to fix the properties – many of which were dilapidated – and had brought life back to deserted communities.
But Hasikos countered that these expenses had been recouped over the years the property had been used at low rent.