Monday, 2 June 2014
Mr. António Guterres
United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees
Request for resettlement from Cyprus
We are a group of recognized refugees living in Cyprus for more than ten years. Since September 2013 until now, we are struggling with the aim to gain a status in the country which will enable us and our families to live in dignity and with hope in the future (please see attached letter dated 27 May 2014).
We began our protest in front of the Parliament of the Republic of Cyprus in September 2013 and we set a protest camp there for 45 days, but we have never received any response from the responsible authorities. Thus, we decided to move our protest from the Parliament of the Republic of Cyprus to the Ministry of Interior. We were there for 48 days on hunger strike, without a substantial response from the Government of Cyprus for a durable and permanent solution to our problems. Thus, we decided to escalate our action once again, by not taking any liquids after the 48th day of our hunger strike.
On the 51st day of our hunger strike and 3rd day without taking any liquids, the Representative of UNHCR in Cyprus, Mr. Damthew Dessalegne, came and visited us, while he personally committed that he will help us to find durable and permanent solutions to our problems. The following day, Mr. Dessalegne had a meeting with the Minister of Interior, Mr. Socrates Hasikos, who then personally came out and visited us in our protest camp in front of the Ministry. During our meeting, Mr. Hasikos gave us his word that he will help us to solve our problems. Consequently, we stopped our hunger strike after 52 days, during the last 4 of which we were not taking any liquids as well, as we were positively thinking and really hoping that eventually we would get access to our basic human rights and most importantly our right to be granted with the Cypriot citizenship after living legally in Cyprus for more than a decade.
We would like to explain why we think that the granting of citizenship is the only solution to our problems and in finding durable solutions. Cyprus grants to refugees only temporary residents permits of three years which may be renewed for further three year periods. If we leave Cyprus and stay out of the country for a period longer than three months, then according to the law, the residence permit is cancelled. If we go to another country, we can only stay for a period of three months with a visa, after which we either have to leave or apply for residence under immigration rules and not as refugees. There are no permanent residence permits under national law which could be granted to refugees. The long term residence status, which is provided from the European Union Directive, it’s impossible for refugees to have it as in most of our cases we cannot prove that we have sufficient resources, due to high unemployment of refugees, lack of integration measures and recognition of professional qualifications. The only possible status we can get, in order to have protection and durable solutions and that will enable us to live in dignity, but also if we wish, to try and seek employment outside Cyprus, is citizenship which is granted on the basis of discretion, if one fulfills only residence criteria.
Nevertheless, after 5 whole months we are informed that our applications for citizenship will be rejected. This make us believe that we will always be “foreigners” in this country; that we will never being able to live with dignity; that we will never have equal treatment with all the other human beings in Cyprus; that we have no future here. Under the current circumstances, we are convinced that we cannot continue our lives in Cyprus any more, thus, we decided to begin again a hunger strike in order to reach in one or the other way a final solution to our problems. Unfortunately, we have lost any hope that the Cypriot Authorities will respond positively to our just demands.
Through this letter we would like to inform you that on Monday, 2nd of June 2014, we are going to start a new hunger strike in front of your offices in Cyprus. Since we cannot find any solution to our problems in Cyprus we request from your Office to resettle us from Cyprus, to a country which respects the rights of refugees and can provide durable solutions. Any loss of human life is from now on the hands of UNHCR. We firmly believe that we have used all the democratic and legal means to get out from this situation, but unfortunately the Civil Registry and Migration Department of the Ministry of Interior of the Republic of Cyprus and the Minister of Interior, does not want to find a durable and permanent solution to the problems that refuges are facing in Cyprus. Now, it is clear to us that the responsible authorities have pushed us to our limits and want to keep us always marginalized and excluded in this society under conditions which we cannot tolerate any more.
Under these circumstances we demand to be resettled from Cyprus to any other place in the world, where we can live in safety and dignity and were we, and our families, will be able to have a future as well. [i]
Concluding, we wish to stress our determination to reach the upcoming World Refugees’ Day with a final solution to our problems. In case we will not succeed to reach a solution which will give us hope for a future life in dignity and safety we are determined to die in order to finish these problems in a way that depends only on us.
Thank you in advance for your understanding and help.
Muhammad Altaf / Salah A. Q. Ghanim / Asadollah Panahimehr / Mehrangiz Hematmand
– Representative of the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) in Cyprus, Mr. Damthew Dessalegne
Minister of Interior of the Republic of Cyprus, Mr Socrates Hasikos
[i] KISA – Action for Equality, Support, Antiracism, “Recognized Refugees Demand Access to Human Rights!”, 3 April 2014 => https://kisa.org.cy/recognized-refugees-demand-access-to-human-rights/