In Cyprus, migrants are often at the bottom of the government’s list of priorities, suffering great hardship, social exclusion and are well below the poverty line. However, one in five of the population in Cyprus is a migrant. Out of them most of the asylum seekers are coming from African and Arab countries, Syria in particular. Cyprus is facing particularly difficult times due to the economic crisis and due to the instability of neighbouring countries.
The Caritas Cyprus Migrant Centre (CCyMC) helps these people throughout the island by providing legal, social and administrative advice to migrants and advocacy support to help them secure their basic needs. Migrants for CCyMC include domestic & agricultural workers, asylum seekers, refugees, victims of trafficking, college students, spouses of Cypriot and EU nationals and impoverished Europeans.
All names are fictional
“I am D from the Middle East. I came to Cyprus 25 years ago. I escaped from my country because of religious persecution. After obtaining refugee status in Cyprus, I worked running a restaurant and eventually had a construction building company.
However, when the crisis hit Cyprus in 2012, I suffered financial losses and lost my business. I moved to another EU country looking for a job. The problem was that I didn’t have a Cypriot passport. The travel document – usually the only ID document granted to recognised refugees in Cyprus – entitles me to visit an EU country but not to work there. After 3 months I was sent back to Cyprus.
I suffered a stroke and a mental breakdown which left me half paralysed and unable to work. When discharged from the hospital, I had nowhere to go and was placed in an old people’s home. After a month there, I was given 400 euros and forced to leave. I found myself homeless and in a poor medical state. I found help at the Caritas Cyprus Migrant Centre shelter in Nicosia and 5 months later I was able to move out into my own accommodation. After several requests to the government, I was eventually given welfare benefits.”
“My name is A and I am a Syrian Christian from Aleppo, aged 24. I have a degree in IT and can speak English. As the eldest of my family, I would be required to enrol in the Army after I graduated. But in February 2015, my family decided that due to the continued attacks on Christian areas of Syria, and in order to avoid my imminent recruitment by the army, I should leave Aleppo as soon as possible and go to Cyprus. The plan was that the rest of my family – my parents and 3 young brothers – would wait for my advice as to whether they should follow me to Cyprus or flee to another country.
After paying € 1,800 to the smugglers, I left Syria and travelled to Lebanon by bus; after that to Turkey by ship, with very bad weather; from Turkey, I somehow managed to arrive to northern Cyprus. I paid another €600 for boat and bus tickets and other expenses on the route. I walked to the border with southern Cyprus and declared myself as an asylum seeker to the Republic of Cyprus.
I had relatives in Limassol and made my way to them. I also got to know about the Caritas Cyprus Migrant Centre in Limassol and offered my services to them as a volunteer and translator. They received me as a brother.
I have never received any welfare nor housing benefits from the Government of Cyprus. In any case, my relatives and the Caritas Cyprus Migrant Centre have fully supported me. I have now been granted recognised refugee status from the Government of Cyprus, so I am free to seek employment, but due to the economic crisis there are no jobs in Cyprus; especially not for migrants. I am unable to travel to other European countries and seek employment there, because any travel document I can obtain (as I cannot be a Cypriot national for at least 7 years residency) will be valid for 3 months only.
Three months ago the home of my family was bombed. I would like my family to join me here but we don’t have the money to pay the smugglers. The cost payable to smugglers to get to other European countries is too high. Besides, I am not sure how my family will be able to look after themselves financially in Cyprus, without jobs or welfare.”
The parishes working with migrants have helped feed, house, clothe, provide transport, and arrange medical care for them. Since the last 6 months of 2014 those parishes have been providing groceries for about 200 migrant families (600 persons) monthly.
The CCyMC has established an itinerant migrant legal/administrative/social advice service providing services to migrants in all the parishes on a regular basis. During 2014 throughout Cyprus, the Caritas Cyprus Migrant Centre has assisted in more than 150 new cases of migrants with legal/social/administrative and status problems, in addition to about 100 cases continuing from the previous year.