Migrants left homeless and unemployed in Cyprus

Photo credit: Business Recorder. Migrants arrive in Nicosia, Cyprus.

TMP – 09/01/2018

The United Nations refugee agency UNHCR is calling on the Cypriot government to review its policies, saying that most migrants and asylum seekers on the island are severely deprived because of the lack of social assistance available to them.

Migrants told the agency of the difficulties they experience, including the risk of becoming homeless, the systematic delay in the issuance of food coupons and the insufficiency of assistance in general.

“Time and again, over the last four years, UNHCR Cyprus has raised its serious concerns with the government regarding both the conditions at the Kofinou reception centre as well as the social assistance asylum seekers living in the community receive, which is below the national poverty line. I regret to say that no progress has been made yet,” said Damtew Dessalegne, UNHCR representative in Cyprus.

UNHCR said that the voucher system the government has in place to assist asylum seekers “is ineffective, inefficient and disempowering”. Asylum seekers are given 220 euros per month in social assistance to cover food, clothing, utilities, transportation and all other essential needs, other than accommodation. For housing, a rent allowance of 100 euros is provided – far below the average cost of renting an apartment. The low amount, together with the irregularity with which it is paid, has led to a growing problem of homelessness among migrants.

Last month, the social welfare offices in two of the main towns on Cyprus decided to halve the rent allowance to 50 euros. This means that many migrants face being evicted from their housing as they will be unable to pay rent. Among those affected are vulnerable female migrants such as young women, single mothers and victims of trafficking.

The financial burden is worsened by the fact that, as in most European countries, asylum seekers are not allowed to work for the first six months and after that only in sectors requiring unskilled labour such as farming, animal husbandry, garbage collection and car washing.

Honorary chairperson of Cyprus Stop Trafficking said she will approach the EU Commissioner for Migration, Home Affairs and Citizenship and the Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights about living conditions at the reception centre.

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