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Our View: Refugees have woken up to their true situation too late

The fenced off area of Varosha

The mayors of six occupied municipalities gave a news conference on Thursday to express their frustration about the failure of the state to support refugees and to satisfy long-standing demands. These included complete transparency in procedures acquiring rights to use Turkish Cypriot properties and the equitable distribution of assistance for loss of use of properties of displaced persons.

Everyone knows about the corruption surrounding the allocation of Turkish Cypriot properties but regarding the loss of use of properties a legitimate point was raised – the cost of a non-settlement should cease to burden the same category of people, the refugees. They have been deprived of their properties for 45 years and denied compensation or return in the absence of a settlement, which has seen property values soar in the areas controlled by the Republic.

While serving as interior minister Socratis Hasikos proposed that in the event there was no settlement refugees should be compensated from the accumulated wealth of those who benefited and continue to benefit from the division of the island. In the last election campaign President Anastasiades made promises based on this proposal and a figure of €100 million was bandied about as compensation for loss of use of property, Famagusta mayor Alexis Galanos said. At a meeting with Anastasiades on Wednesday, a delegation of Famagustans were told different things, said Galanos, implying they had been misled.

Sadly, this is nothing new. Refugees have been misled and lied to for decades. In the 70s and 80s they were promised they would all return to their homes. Over the years, false hopes were constantly raised about the fenced area of Famagusta being returned to its residents even though when its return was offered as far back as 1978 on condition that peace talks resumed, supported by Akel, President Kyprianou rejected the offer. Then they were told the right of return would be guaranteed to everyone, which was another lie.

As if this constant lying was not bad enough, the refugees that applied for compensation for their properties to the Immovable Property Commission in the north were publicly castigated by the very politicians who were zealously fighting against a settlement. They were made to feel like traitors for seeking compensation for properties the patriotic politicians criticising them would ensure would never be returned.

It seems with partition on the cards, refugees have woken up and finally understood the deception they have been subjected to for five decades. The ruse on the return of Famagusta under a negotiated settlement cannot continue a Famagusta municipality announcement said, recalling that opportunities for the town’s return were rejected for “assorted reasons and specific interests.” On Thursday Galanos spoke of a “deep state” – the “establishments of Nicosia and Limassol” – that did not want a settlement and had the power to undermine peace efforts whenever there were talks. He later told Politis radio that some people won the lottery ticket with the invasion and cited the big developers that oppose every effort for a settlement. In 2004 the developers funded the ‘no’ campaign which fought so that Famagusta, Morphou and scores of villages could remain under Turkish control. It seems Turkish intransigence is not the only obstacle to a settlement as the deep state always claims.

Refugees are not without responsibility for the situation as they were happy to be taken for a ride by the deep state and politicians advancing their careers through hard-line rhetoric. Some 70 per cent of Famagustans voted against the Annan plan in 2004, while the then mayor of Morphou campaigned for a ‘no’ vote. They had bought into anti-settlement hysteria of the time, unable to see that this served the financial interests of the beneficiaries of the continuing occupation. Refugees were often thrown a few crumbs by the deep state to keep quiet about their predicament such as cash assistance for building a house, a house in a refugee estate, a Turkish Cypriot property and of course the refugee ID card that entitled them to some state benefits.

Now Famagusta municipality is trying to organise refugees to pursue their rights more forcefully and has arranged meetings all over Cyprus to discuss a list of demands, including compensation for loss of use of their property. This is an acknowledgement that there will never be a settlement, a coming to terms with the reality that their properties are lost and that for 45 years they were lied to, deceived and misled by ruthless politicians defending the interests of the beneficiaries of the continuing occupation. The sad thing is that they woke up to what was happening too late and there is nothing they can do about it now.

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