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Municipality moves against building overcrowding in old Nicosia

Nicosia municipality has taken legal measures against the owners of more than 40 buildings in the old part of town for arbitrarily turning them into residences, mayor Constantinos Yiorkadjis said.

The move was part of the municipality’s efforts to tackle the problems caused by the disproportionate concentration of migrants in central urban areas, the lack of integration policies and housing for vulnerable groups, including migrants, and the delay in processing asylum applications.

“The management of the immigration issue as well as the implementation of social policy is the responsibility of the state, which, however, allocates fewer and fewer resources to the local authorities for checks and planning of integration programmes,” the mayor said in an article.

In Cyprus, he said, immigrants, asylum seekers and refugees are excluded or find it difficult to secure decent work, which leads to financial hardship with all that entails. “To address the problems that arise, the municipality of Nicosia has taken timely initiatives to the extent permitted by its responsibilities, available resources and state priorities,” he said.

He added that local authorities have repeatedly turned to the state with requests for support and cooperation to deal with phenomena of over-concentration but also delinquent behaviours which are becoming a frequent occurrence.

Yiorkadjis said the municipality has recorded all premises for which there were suspicions of illegal use and over-concentration of residents, mainly immigrants, and sent this information to the competent departments of the state for coordination of visits and inspections.

He added that legal measures were taken against the owners of more than 40 premises for arbitrarily converting them into residential spaces, resulting in nuisance.

The municipality has also recorded all dangerous buildings for which there were suspicions or information that undocumented immigrants were staying. A written warning was given to 16 owners of dangerous buildings and an administrative fine was imposed on four owners who did not act immediately, following the warning they received.

“Letters were sent to all the owners of the premises which were registered as uninhabited but during inspections it emerged that they were being used illegally as places of residence for people,” he said. In 15 cases the owners complied by evacuating and sealing off their premises. For five premises, procedures have been set in motion for hygiene problems and legal measures will be taken, whereas in another five cases owners’ compliance is still pending, otherwise the municipality will proceed with legal measures.

Intensive health checks continue to ensure decent living conditions, he said. “Unfortunately, these controls only lead to temporary solutions due to the complex legal framework and time-consuming procedures,” Yiorkadjis said.

He added that the municipality has also introduced a series of programmes for the social integration of migrants, refugees and vulnerable groups such as care for immigrant children, courses for the preservation of the multicultural identity of children of Arab and Chinese origin, an information office, psychosocial support and networking for immigrants, Greek language courses for adults, events for the mingling of immigrants and locals, and training of migrant mentors.

The municipality also took the initiative and convened a wide coordination meeting of all competent government services, focusing on issues related to the housing of immigrants, such as dealing with homelessness of asylum seekers or undocumented immigrants.

In 2018, he said, approval was sought for the recruitment of a number of officials for social work on the street, a request that was resubmitted in February 2020. In February, the recruitment of six health workers was also requested in order to increase the frequency of inspections but also for increased number of neighbourhood police inspections at premises. “So far, these requests remain pending,” he said.

According to Yiorkadjis, there is room for substantial improvement on many levels. “It is obvious, however, that no effort by the local authorities will be able to bring about the desired result, if the state does not help in the difficult task they are called upon to perform,” he said.

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