Refugees in Pafos entirely reliant on charity groups and community support to cover all their needs
Members of the UNHCR Cyprus team and Refugee Outreach Volunteers meet with the refugee and asylum-seeker community in the Pafos area.
© UNHCR Cyprus
The UNHCR Office in Cyprus joined its new Refugee Outreach Volunteers (ROVs) last week to meet with a group of refugees in Pafos in order to hear their grievances regarding their living conditions and future prospects in Cyprus.
Four families from war-torn Aleppo, Homs, Idlib and Darra in Syria joined the meeting. In search of safety and a future for their children, these particularly vulnerable families fled to Cyprus for protection from war and persecution.
They have been residing in Pafos for over a year now, desperately struggling to make ends meet. While they are beneficiaries of subsidiary protection status, they are without work and without welfare or integration support. This leaves them entirely reliant on charity groups and community support to cover all their needs, from food and clothing, to mattresses, beds and medical care.
“Many are sleeping on the floor,” says Rehab, UNHCR’s Refugee Outreach Volunteer in Pafos. Others are faced with the real risk of homelessness, as they can no longer afford to pay their rent.
As subsidiary protection beneficiaries, they are entitled to the Guaranteed Minimum Income (GMI) to cover their basic needs, rent and utilities. However, their applications for the state allowance are still pending, in some cases for over a year. This leaves them caught in a vicious cycle while their applications for the GMI are being processed. Meanwhile serious medical needs remain unattended to, since free medical care at the public hospitals is availed for beneficiaries of the GMI.
One of the families has a five-year-old boy who suffered a severe hand injury after a bomb explosion while he was playing in the yard of his home back in Idlib. His father feels helpless: “Without work, without welfare support and without free medical care at the hospital, how can I afford to take him to the doctor for a check-up?”
Disability needs also remain unattended. Such is the case of a young couple from Aleppo with two children, aged 3 and 5, both with severe disabilities and who cannot walk. The young parents cannot afford to buy prams and their children are always in their arms.
All the refugees who joined the meeting said the same thing: “We don’t want to be dependent on government assistance.” They underscored their wish to work, and their need for better opportunities for employment, language learning and vocational training in order to achieve self-sufficiency and become contributing members of the local host society the soonest possible.
The meeting was the first to take place under the Refugee Outreach Volunteer Programme that was recently launched by UNHCR Cyprus. The innovative new programme aims to enhance UNHCR’s outreach to the refugee and asylum-seeker community, understand their needs and concerns, identify the most vulnerable amongst them and effectively monitor their situation. The programme also aims at promoting and supporting community engagement, resilience and active participation in the social, economic and cultural life of the host society.
Helping refugees integrate into the economic, social and cultural fabric of the host society is one of UNHCR’s primary aims in Cyprus, as elsewhere in the European Union. UNHCR’s report Towards a Comprehensive Refugee Integration Strategy for Cyprus highlights the challenges faced by refugees in their integration process in Cyprus, and suggests ways to ensure effective integration.