UNHCR Cyprus’ First Integration Conference Results in Public Call to Action
Some 100 delegates attended UNHCR Cyprus' first Integration Conference on 11 December 2019 in Nicosia.
© UNHCR Cyprus
On 11 December 2019, the UNHCR Country Office in Cyprus held its first annual Integration Conference in Nicosia, under the title The Integration of Refugees in Cyprus – Opportunities and Challenges. The conference was attended by 100 participants, including members of the refugee community in Cyprus, guest refugees from abroad, government representatives, local authorities, civil society organizations, educational institutions, journalists, academics, lawyers and humanitarian workers.
In our all-day event, a number of themes were explored, with speakers and panelists from a wide range of backgrounds, including, among others, refugees, civil servants, NGOs and members of civil society. Representatives of local authorities and organizations implementing integration projects, presented their activities and discussed the challenges they face in the Cyprus context. Members of the refugee community exchanged views with pioneers in refugee-led organizations and initiatives in Europe, introducing a largely understated but fundamental part of the dialogue in Cyprus, that of refugee self-representation and inclusion.
"Integration is a two-way process," said UNHCR Cyprus' Protection Officer Olga Komiti in her opening remarks. © UNHCR Cyprus
UNHCR Cyprus' Protection Associate George Ailiotis spoke about integration in refugees' own words. © UNHCR Cyprus
Six young refugees shared their experiences and thoughts on diversity and social inclusion in an open dialogue with the audience. © UNHCR Cyprus
Participants engaged in thematic workshops on education, housing, employment and social inclusion, resulting in public statements and a call to action. © UNHCR Cyprus
One of the main discussions at the conference, was regarding the need to tackle the lack of participation and self-representation of refugees not only in society, but also at the decision and policy-making level. Half the speakers and panelists at the conference were thus members of the refugee community, who were able to share their firsthand experiences on the subject matter. The situation of young refugees and their experiences with integration in Cyprus were discussed in a live interview with six refugee youth, including students and young professionals. A new project which will be initiated in 2020, aiming to strengthen refugee inclusion by building the capacity of Refugee-led Community Organizations, was also presented during our conference.
Participants were informed about the outline, and progress of the National Action Plan for Integration, while specific reference was made to the intention to include members of the refugee community in its consultation process. Furthermore, participants had the opportunity to hear from the European Funds Unit of the Ministry of Interior on the new features of the upcoming programme period of the EU Asylum and Migration Fund.
Four thematic workshops took place during the conference, which have produced four respective public statements from participants, with recommendations for future action in relation to the main gaps that were jointly identified and prioritised. Overall, there was consensus that there is an urgent and ever increasing need for a multi-stakeholder approach to integration, and for both the government and civil society to work collectively to enhance and promote the integration of refugees. Working to tackle inadequate access to basic rights and services, and enabling the participation, and inclusion of refugees in the decision and policy-making process, were largely acknowledged to be crucial components of this effort. See full statements from the four thematic workshops below:
UNHCR aims to hold its second Annual Refugee Integration Conference in the second half of 2020.
Refugees, lawyers, journalists, teachers, students, filmmakers and photographers attended the conference, as well as individuals representing the following companies, organisations, projects, departments and institutions: ACCEPT – LGBTI Cyprus; Association of Recognised Refugees in Cyprus; CARDET; Caritas Cyprus; Center for Social Innovation(CSI); Civil Registry and Migration Department; Crewhouse; Cyprus Employers and Industrialists Federation (OEB); Cyprus News Agency; Cyprus Pedagogical Institute; Cyprus Red Cross Society; Cyprus Refugee Council; Cyprus Stop Trafficking; Embassy of the Kingdom of the Netherlands; European Commission Representation; European Funds Unit – Ministry of Interior; German Embassy; Hope for Children – UNCRC Policy Centre; Human Resource Development Authority of Cyprus; IMH C.S.C. Ltd; Integrating Lives; International Organisation for Migration; Limassol Municipality; Mediterranean Institute for Gender Studies (MIGS); METAdrasi; MiHub; Ministry of Education, Culture, Sport and Youth; Ministry of Labor, Welfare and Social Insurance; Nicosia Municipality; Oasis; Office of the Commissioner for Administration and Protection of Human Rights (Ombudsman); Opinion and Action Services Ltd; Pascal English School Lefkosia; Women Arabic Cultural Club – Cyprus; PriceWaterhouseCoopers; Refugee Support Europe -Dignity Centre Nicosia; Sistema Cyprus; Embassy of Switzerland; Embassy of the United States of America; Union of Cyprus Communities; University of Cyprus; University of Nicosia.