Paphos Mayor, Fedon Fedonos, called his experience “shocking” on Monday night, following an inspection by the municipality and state authorities of a complex located in Paphos which was not authorised to house people. There they faced the terrible conditions in which many refugees and migrants are forced to live: residing in an uncomfortably overcrowded house, while each paying an exorbitant fee of up to €300 in rent per month.
Additionally, after the rejection of some demands made by the Municipality of Nicosia from the Ministry of Interior, the Mayor of Nicosia declared his intention to proceed with the racist and illegal measures of forbidding the residence of asylum seekers, refugees and immigrants in the city centre. We inform the Mayor that in principle, the implementation of this intention is in blatant violation of the Law of 2004 for Equal Treatment – Racial or Ethnic – (N.59(I)/ (2004). This law is a product of the following Directive 2000/43/EC on the Application of the Principle of Equal Treatment of Persons Irrespective of Racial or Ethnic Origin.
For many years now, we have been witness to such kinds of “revelations”. As KISA has repeatedly warned and condemned, the housing problem amongst the most vulnerable population groups is rapidly escalating; meanwhile, there is still an absence of any indication of intention by the authorities to formulate and implement the necessary policies and measures to address it, even partially. Immigrants and refugees are not the only groups who bear the consequences of the lack of housing policy, this also extends to Cypriot citizens to an increasing degree. In the case of refugees and immigrants however, the housing problem has always been more difficult and is progressively reaching greater levels of deterioration causing a heartbreaking magnitude of misery.
This despair and exploitation are a product of the discrimination, exclusion and marginalization to which refugees and migrant women have been condemned to since they only have limited and minimal options provided to them. Therefore, they are forced to resort to squalid houses, apartments and even shops, mainly in neglected neighbourhoods. These estates become “gold mines” for their owners and other crooks who notoriously and shamelessly exploit them. The need for affordable housing leads to overcrowding of such houses as tenants seek to share the burden of rent, while landlords make huge profits. The state has always played a key role in the exploitation of these social groups by tolerating their mistreatment and in turn further reinforcing this reality. Even today there are several known cases of exploitation by landlords which we have been reporting to the authorities for a long time and we are still awaiting action.
Further, the governments measures set the rent allowance for asylum seekers at €100 per person and €250 in case of a family. These amounts do not correspond to market prices in the slightest. This so called “solution” enhances the demand for such premises while simultaneously paving the way for overcrowding.
The treatment of asylum seekers in Pournara camp is another example of the effects of lack of state planning. When the state methods did not succeed in bringing European funding to the government, the Ministry of Interior simply decided to open the gates of the camp without preparation and planning, thus leaving around 600 people vulnerable to the demands of the specific housing market.
Currently, the Municipalities that are under the pressure of the toxic climate among their citizens being formed by the rise of the far-right racist and nationalist narrative – both by the government and other far-right neo-Nazi groups and parties – seem to intend to proceed with the closure of such premises, citing reasons of legality of the building permit, use of premises, etc. However, the Municipalities don’t seem to be planning ahead for the consequences suffered by the main victims of this exploitation and illegality: the refugees and immigrants. This method of solving technical problems will exacerbate the already unacceptable and inhumane housing situation faced by these vulnerable groups.
KISA believes that neither stating being “shocked” on social media, nor the racist exclusion measures can solve this very serious problem. Municipalities, collectively through their Union, must ensure that the competent Ministry of Interior and the government will proceed with a specific plan for dealing with and managing the housing problem faced by many social groups. Especially the housing problems of immigrants and refugees must be a priority in view of their vulnerability, defenselessness toward exploitation, marginalisation and discrimination. European funds can even be used for immediate purposes, based on a comprehensive and long-term plan. We emphasize that the right to housing is a human right enshrined in the United Nations Covenant on Social, Economic and Cultural Rights, while obligations to provide housing to asylum seekers and refugees arise also under EU law.
KISA Steering Committee