Cypriot Defense Minister Says Refugees Will Find Safe Haven, Home

FILE -A Syria man, right, who lives in Cyprus, meets with his relatives after they arrived at a refugees camp at Kokkinotrimithia outside of the capital Nicosia, in the eastern Mediterranean island of Cyprus, on Saturday, Feb. 4, 2017. (AP Photo/Petros Karadjias, File)

After criticism from activists who said refugees on Cyprus are living in substandard conditions and being pushed into poverty, Defense Minister Savvas Angelides said those who come will find a safe haven and be helped.

He made the comments on launching international maritime search & rescue exercise Argonaut 2018 in which more than 40 countries are taking part in or are observing the drills that are taking place in Larnaca this week, said Kathimerini.

It’s the biggest exercise being conducted in the Mediterranean where Turkish warships are trying to block foreign energy companies from reaching Cyprus’ Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) where they are licensed to drill for oil and gas.

Angelides said he was glad so many countries were taking part because, “The extremely sensitive status of the Middle East increases the possibility for non-combatant evacuation operations as a result of a conflict and/or crisis,” the Cyprus Mail reported.

In 2006 more than 70,000 evacuees arrived in Cyprus from Lebanon in the largest sea evacuation since WWII.

“Under this scope, our efficient cooperation is a crucial factor that may define the outcome of the operations that will take place, always within the framework of humanitarian operations in the Eastern Mediterranean,” said Angelides.

“Cyprus will remain a safe haven for those in need, especially for the refugees that are forced to abandon their homes and families to save their lives,” he said.

A report from the Cyprus Refugee Council detailed the lives of destitution they face in the country’s only detention center, called Kofinou. The UNHCR, the United Nations’ refugee agency and other activist groups said it is overcrowded and deteriorating.

Following a recent policy change by the Asylum Service, Kofinou no longer accepts single male asylum seekers.

This means that, beyond 265 people hosted in Kofinou and 130 unaccompanied children residing in special shelters, the vast majority of applicants live outside of centers with more than 4,500 applying for international protection in 2017.

Shortages in accommodations and funds to help the refugees and migrants is making matters worse for them, with the UNCH and national civil society groups urged the government to increase aid to them.
The Cyprus Refugee Council, which joined in in the call, said, “We are deeply concerned with the decreasing ability of the reception system to accommodate the vital needs of asylum seekers in the country.”

It added: “The implementation of highly restrictive policies in regards to the level of social assistance and the access to the labor market, combined with the absence of an effective monitoring and support mechanism, has led to an increased homelessness problem among vulnerable asylum seekers.”