Ombudswoman Maria Stylianou Lottides send a message of solidarity to all refugees on Monday, to mark the international day for the elimination of racial discrimination.

In a written statement, Lottides said that apart from legislation amendments to penalise discrimination, awareness is required to educate citizens and frontline workers to recognise and prevent acts of hate speech, racial violence or hate crimes.

The state as well as society has an obligation to stand united against such actions, she said.

The office of the commissioner for administration and the protection of human rights in collaboration with OSCE (Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe), organises a series of training courses in the republic aimed at recognising, understanding and combating hate crimes while it also systematically intervenes to raise awareness and combat racism, the statement said.

Some of the ombudsman’s recent interventions included several racist incidents in the sports field, when she underlined that in a democratic state, all people have the right to equal and dignified participation in society, as well as during the racist attacks against foreign motorcycle delivery drivers which she said “offend the culture and values of our own state and society”.

“The changes that humanity is facing with such speed cause surprise, but should not paralyse us,” the commissioner said, referring to the war in Ukraine and the coronavirus pandemic.

Citing the message of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees to mark the day, Lottides reminded that while Ukrainian refugees have already received a wave of support, other refugees fleeing from conflict from different parts of the world are not treated the same way “because of their colour or origin”.

“The demonisation of diversity and its projection as a threat to the cohesion of local communities intensifies the exclusion and deprivation of rights of our fellow human beings,” she said.

The ombudswoman also referred to the Cypriot refugees after the island’s invasion in 1974 and called for the equal treatment of all refugees.

“Everyone without exception should work together to promote acceptance of diversity and refrain from actions, actions and statements that poison society and imbue it with racist attitudes and fear of anything different.”

March 21 was established in 1966 by the United Nations General Assembly as the Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination to commemorate the cold-blooded murder of 70 students peacefully demonstrating against apartheid in South Africa on 21 March 1960.