Yarub is a 37-year-old father of three from Aleppo. He lives in Pafos, Cyprus with his wife and family on subsidiary protection status. He is a stonemason by trade, having learned from his father back home, and now works in construction. Running a small company together with his brother, he employs six people and takes on building and home renovation contracts in Pafos and elsewhere in Cyprus.
Yarub tried to stay in Syria even after the war began, but as bombings became a daily occurrence on his way to work, he had to take the difficult decision to leave his parents and the business and seek a safer future outside his home country. When asked if he wished to return, Yarub said, “Even if I did, there is nothing left to return to; there is not even school for my children.” Yarub told us how his wife, who is also from Aleppo, is more nostalgic when she thinks of home. “But she has not seen what I have seen – I saw children killed by bombs in my street; I can never erase those pictures from my mind.”
As subsidiary protection beneficiaries, Yarub and his family are unable to travel, and are also unable to reunite their families from whom they have been separated. “For many years I did not see my parents,” Yarub said. Finally, his mother and father, who are in their late sixties, paid smugglers and took the dangerous journey by sea to Cyprus, in order to be reunited with their sons and grandchildren. They also had to spend several weeks at Pournara after they applied for asylum. “It wasn’t easy for them,” Yarub said. “I used to go every day to see them. My mother would tell me it was cold.” Luckily for Yarub’s parents, they did not have to endure the hardships at the reception centre for very long; knowing they would soon be at home with their family kept their spirits alive.
As for Yarub and his family’s future, his wish is to apply for naturalization to become a Cypriot citizen. With citizenship, the family’s future would be more secure. As a subsidiary protection beneficiary, he can apply for naturalization after completing at least five years of residence in Cyprus, as well as an uninterrupted stay of 12 months before the date of application. The other stipulated statutory requirements for citizenship include being a person of good character and having an intention to live in the Republic of Cyprus.
After living for many years and raising a family and running a business here, Cyprus is home. “Life is good for us here,” says Yarub. “My family is safe, my children can go to school, and I can work to provide for them. We are not rich, but it is enough for us.” But as subsidiary protection beneficiaries the family is in a kind of limbo, always uncertain what their future holds, and also unable to enjoy basic rights such as travel abroad to visit other family members also dispersed by the conflict.
Nawar (left) and Obaida (right) at Nawar's warehouse. © UNHCR Cyprus
Obaida's wife Marwa at their family-owned convenience store business in Chloraka, Pafos. © UNHCR Cyprus
Nawar (left) and Yarub (right) at Nawar's shop in Pafos. © UNHCR Cyprus
Obaida and Nawar together with the team of Syrian construction workers on site at the Pafos renovation works where they are volunteering their time to assist the Pafos Municipality. © UNHCR Cyprus
Obaida is a 48-year-old construction worker from Idlib, Syria and lives in Chloraka with his wife and their 4 year-old-son. Speaking to us in Cypriot dialect, he explained that since he arrived in Cyprus in 2003, long before the war in Syria, he has always lived in Chloraka.
“It has always been a quiet life there, going to work, spending time with friends,” he said. Obaida explained that the young men who recently arrived in the area from Syria have only ever known conflict; “They make trouble because they don’t know any better; they don’t know about rules and normal life,” he said. “Without work and money they will get into trouble. I try to help them as much as I can, but employment is difficult as they don’t have the proper papers.”
When he first arrived, Obaida worked as a painter, and slowly learned other skills and later worked in construction. He has recently established a construction company where he employs other Syrians; depending on the size of the job, the team can be anywhere from 5 to 30 persons. In addition to renovations, his company also undertakes building contracts and recently constructed 18 houses in the Pafos area. “The youngsters need work,” said Obaida. “They have to learn the value of earning their own wages, and not being dependent on benefits.”
“There are so many people who want to work,” said Obaida. “Not only in construction; there are people who have different types of knowledge and experience, even in agriculture and dairy farming. There are so many opportunities for them, but they don’t have the means to start even a small business. It would benefit Cypriots as well; there are so many empty fields that could be made productive,” he said, explaining his vision.
“It’s not sustainable for the government to provide benefits for so many people every month for so many years. The problems in Syria will not end soon. These people are here; I think it would be much better to give them the chance to work and start businesses and employ others,” Obaida told us. “This would also help to keep the youngsters out of trouble.”
Together with his wife Marwa they opened a kiosk business in Pafos, but with the impact of pandemic, they lost a lot of money and had to close the business. They have opened another kiosk recently in Chloraka and are hopeful that it will do better. “It’s still early days,” said Obaida. But the kiosk gives his wife the opportunity to also work. “Meanwhile I do what I can in my construction work; we get by.” Obaida told us that life in Cyprus has its difficulties, especially the cost of living, explaining that they still rent as they can’t afford to buy a home. “Since I came here I never took a cent from the government,” he told us, proudly.
Obaida tells us he likes the quiet simple life and is happy he can work to provide for his family and share quality time together with them at the weekends. “I’ve spent half my life here. All I hope now is to save a little money and buy my family a small home, so we can feel more settled. Syria is ruined. I can’t return. It’s finished. There is no life there, no work. My child needs school. It’s not just me anymore; I need to think about my family.”