NICOSIA — The war in Ukraine has focused the world’s attention on the plight of millions fleeing the country. But migrants from sub-Saharan Africa, Asia and elsewhere continue to reach ethnically divided Cyprus, where authorities say they’re overwhelmed.
On the outskirts of the capital, Nicosia, Somali teenager Haroun, who left his home a month ago, plays soccer in a pair of cheap rubber slippers behind an overcrowded migrant reception camp.
The sockless 16 year-old — who asked not to have his last name used for fear it could prejudice authorities against him — said his mother sent him to Cyprus in the hope that he could join other families seeking a better life in Europe. He said no one has spoken to him about his circumstances since he arrived last month, when reception center officials simply took down his details.
Like tens of thousands before him, the teenager said he flew to the island’s breakaway Turkish Cypriot north and crossed by car through the porous, United Nations-controlled buffer zone to the south, where the internationally recognized government is based. Cyprus is a European Union member, but only the south enjoys full membership benefits.
Some 85% of migrants who reach the north slip across the buffer zone put in place after Turkey’s 1974 invasion that was prompted by a coup aiming at union with Greece.
Haroun said Thursday that the quality of food served at the center was a key problem. “If the food isn’t OK, then nothing is OK,” he told The Associated Press.
A day earlier, Cyprus’ commissioner for children’s rights criticized conditions for unaccompanied minors at the Pournara reception center as “miserable” and “unhygienic,” with inadequate food and water and as many as 15 people sharing a room.
Commissioner Despo Michaelidou said a team from her office had inspected the center to look into why a group of about 30 minors staged a protest over the “unacceptable” conditions.
In a statement, Michaelidou quoted the minors as saying that breakfast consists of only a “small piece of bread” and they don’t get anything hot to drink in the chilly, late-winter mornings.
She said they’re usually given only a small bottle of water in the afternoon to last through the day, while minors often have to share a bed or sleep on the floor. There are only two toilets and a single shower for the 300 unaccompanied minors, Michaelides said.
The commissioner said the minors were angry because authorities haven’t kept their promise to relocate them to better and safer accommodation.
“It’s the state’s obligation to immediately ensure their health, hygiene, nourishment, protection and dignity until they’re housed in more permanent accommodation,” Michaelidou said.
The Interior Ministry refuted her claims, insisting that minors receive three square meals a day in separate quarters that have six toilets and three showers. It said in a statement that 214 of the 356 minors who have been processed should have already been relocated by Social Welfare Services staff, but haven’t because “appropriate accommodation has not been found yet.”
The Cypriot government says the island has in recent years received more migrants per capita than any other EU country. The 27-nation bloc has pledged funds to help Cyprus cope and to find ways to curtail migrant arrivals, including holding talks with Turkish officials.