Statement on the hunger strike of stateless Kurds from Syria

UNHCR is gravely concerned about the family of stateless Kurds from Syria and urges the government of Cyprus to take all appropriate actions to prevent possible loss of life.


UNHCR is gravely concerned about the health and well-being of the family of stateless Kurds from Syria who have been protesting outside the Presidential Palace and the Ministry of Interior for over a year. Members of the family have been on hunger and thirst strike over the last several days, and some are now in critical condition in hospital, where their lives are at risk. UNHCR therefore urges the government of Cyprus to take all appropriate actions to prevent possible loss of life.

While UNHCR does not condone or encourage protests and hunger strikes as a means to challenge unfavourable Government decisions, we note with regret that this family feels neglected and abandoned, with no other options left to them.  They see their situation as one of double victimization: first, by the country that not only rendered them stateless but also forced them into exile; and secondly by the enormous difficulties they had to endure for the last decade in obtaining asylum in Cyprus and trying to maintain their survival and dignity.

This family came to Cyprus and applied for asylum between 2006 and 2009. Their applications were rejected in February 2011, at a time when a state of emergency was already declared in Syria, and amidst on-going clashes that culminated in a full-fledged civil war in March 2011. Consequently, and despite their evident needs for international protection, these stateless Kurds continued to be considered as “irregular migrants” with no right of residence in the Republic, and without access to basic asylum rights, including education, welfare assistance or access to work.

They were finally granted subsidiary protection in 2015. But it was for them too little, too late. First, under the circumstances prevailing in Syria, the stateless Kurds seeking international protection are likely to fulfil the requirements of the refugee definition contained in the 1951 Convention relating to the Status of Refugees. Secondly, the granting of subsidiary protection could not solve one of the principal problems of these persons: the lack of an internationally-recognized, proper travel document. It was for this reason that they were advised by the Ministry of Interior to apply for citizenship, which they promptly did. Their applications were, however, collectively refused by a single decision in March 2017.

UNHCR considers citizenship as a fundamental element of human security.  It provides people with an identity and a sense of belonging, entitles its holders to the protection of the State and enables their access to social, economic, civil and political rights.  Recognizing the difficulties refugees and stateless persons face by lacking an effective nationality, both the 1951 Convention relating to the Status of Refugees and the 1954 Convention relating to the Status of Stateless Persons provide for the facilitation of the naturalization of such international protection beneficiaries. For these reasons UNHCR has repeatedly raised with the authorities the importance of citizenship to refugees and stateless persons like the Kurdish family whose lives and future currently hang in the balance. UNHCR reiterates again its request for a reconsideration of the citizenship application of this family.