Following the publication of the stories of some Syrian refugees in Cyprus, we continue to share the stories of refugees and asylum-seekers from other countries or regions who came to Cyprus for safety, peace and normalcy.
Through the lens of Sebastian Rich they tell their personal stories– stories of loss and pain but also of courage, perseverance and hope.
Krista*, 33, had a normal and happy life back in her home village in Western Cameroon. The owner of a beautician’s shop, she was leading a normal life with her mother and father, until she lost her father.
“That’s when my nightmare started,” she says. Her uncles forced her into an arranged marriage with a man old enough to be her father, in exchange for a loan. For six months he kept her as a hostage and sexually abused her repeatedly. Until one day she managed to escape to the capital, Yaoundé. Alone in the capital and scared that her abusive husband could come for her, she knew that she would have to find a way to leave the country.
When Krista met a man who promised that would help her out of the country, she grasped the opportunity. She sold her late father’s small plot of land to pay the smuggler for her and her son’s journey to a safe country.
She was promised that France would be her final destination and she believed what she was told. She thought that a new beginning would be easier in a country where at least she spoke the language.
“I never heard of Cyprus. Back home we know the bigger countries like France and Germany,” says Krista.
In May 2019, Krista who was pregnant to her second child, embarked with her son and two other unknown men, on a journey to a safe life. From Yaoundé to Douala, then to Turkey and then to the northern part of Cyprus [not controlled by the Republic of Cyprus] she crossed the buffer zone to the areas controlled by the Republic of Cyprus and applied for asylum.
Two years later Krista is still an asylum-seeker, waiting to be called for an interview at the Asylum Service. While in Cyprus she gave birth to her second son who is now one-and-a-half years old.
Meanwhile, she relies on state support as well as on charity for the family’s needs. She would love to be able to work at a beautician’s shop, but she’s not allowed to do so, as the labour law allows asylum-seekers to work in certain professions other than hers.
In addition, being a single mother without a support network to care for her underage children while at work, would further impede her ability to find work and her empowerment process.
Even though she is safe from the danger she was in back home in Cameroon, Krista still is still in pain, psychologically, and often feels lost. Though she is keen to work, Krista’s employment opportunities are severely limited given the labour restrictions for asylum-seekers and the lack of care facilities for single mothers who have no support network to leave their children while at work. © UNHCR Cyprus/Sebastian Rich
Women and girls make up around 50 per cent of any refugee, internally displaced or stateless population, and some of them are especially vulnerable. UNHCR advocates for the introduction of programs that address the specific needs of refugee and asylum-seeking women, building on their strength and resilience and enabling them to be empowered financially and socially in society. © UNHCR Cyprus/Sebastian Rich
When her seven-year-old son goes to school, Krista takes care of her 18-month-old son who was born in Cyprus. © UNHCR Cyprus/Sebastian Rich
Despite the odds, Krista does hopes she will be able to stand on her own feet, be able to utilise her professional qualifications as a beautician to work and provide for her children, and help them grow up and realise their dreams. © UNHCR Cyprus/Sebastian Rich
“I’m safe from what has been going on back home, but I’m still in pain, psychologically,” says Krista. “Sometimes, I feel abandoned, I feel lost.”
“What really makes me anxious right now is that I have not been called for an interview yet and I don’t know what will happen to my asylum claim. Will I get [international protection] status and be allowed to stay in Cyprus? I don’t know and that worsens my psychological condition.”
The financial difficulties caused by frequent delays in social allowance coupled with the lack of meaningful opportunities to take her life in her own hands often exacerbate Krista’s predicament.
She tried to attend some Greek language programs, but once she appeared with the children she was turned down: “They told me ‘no we don’t need babies here.’ So I don’t know what to do or where to go.”
Despite the odds, Krista does not give up hope. “I really want to feel okay and be able to stand on my own feet, provide for my children and help them realise their dreams.”
UNHCR advocates for the introduction of programs to ensure that the specific needs of refugee and asylum-seeking women are met by building upon their own resilience and strength, and helping them to overcome barriers to education and employment, access opportunities and improve their lives, as well as those of their children and families by promoting their active participation and empowerment.
*Name changed for protection reasons.