The UNHCR in Cyprus has decided, in an effort to raise awareness to the plight of asylum seekers in Cyprus, to share the trials and tribulations of some of the people most affected.
The third is a series of true stories is about a young woman who fled Cameroon to escape forced marriage and lives alone in Cyprus.
According to UNHCR: “Fear and insecurity, as well as substandard living conditions in the premises that asylum-seekers usually reside, are highlighted-among others-in this story”.
Laura (not her real name,) a scientist and a songwriter, is a 20-year old former student of engineering from Cameroon.
Having graduated with good grades from high school where she had specialised in natural sciences, she has a keen interest in continuing her education and working in the production of health products from natural sources such as olive oil and palm oil.
“I would like to know why we asylum seekers are treated as unintelligent,” she says.
She is determined to use her time to learn, while she waits for a decision on her asylum claim, which she submitted upon her arrival in Cyprus beginning of the year. “I feel both free and imprisoned at the same time,” says Laura who has enrolled in English classes and Greek classes.
Laura was left without any other choice than fleeing her village and leaving behind her family who wanted her to marry at age 19. “We don’t have the right to say no –parents choose for you,” says Laura. “I have intellectual capacity, I didn’t want to be imprisoned in a marriage to an elderly man in the village.”
Laura arrived in Cyprus in January and now lives in Nicosia, facing daily challenges with her safety and her survival. “There are many problems,” she says.
Laura tells us that the coupons are not adequate, not only because the amount is very little to survive on, but the shops where she is able to use them do not have fresh fruits and vegetables, or clothes. “But the coupons are not the only problem,” she says.
Her accommodation is a makeshift room made up of movable panels in a former derelict nursery school. Her window is broken, the kitchen and bathroom unsanitary, and the furniture provided torn and dirty.
She shares the ‘house’ with 12 men who each have their own makeshift room, and are often loud and disruptive even at night. Albeit in separate rooms, Laura cannot feel safe with a broken lock.
“Sometimes I feel afraid, I can’t sleep at night,” she says.
While conditions are by far substandard, the rent is €100 and is paid directly to the owner by the Social Welfare Services. The additional allowance of €70 for the utility bills, such as water and electricity, is paid directly to asylum-seekers, but often with delays.
“The owner constantly bothers me about the bills, but I can’t pay due to the delays in the payment of the allowance,” says Laura. If there is any money left from the €70 she may opt to buy food as the coupons are not sufficient to cover even her basic needs. “Sometimes, instead of buying food, I pay the bills to the owner to leave me in peace,” she says.
Apart from yearning to continue her studies in sciences and one day returning back to her country, Laura has a passion for music –she loves singing and writing music. Her soulful voice expresses a range of emotions, and she sings different styles of music including R&B, hip-hop and reggae.
“Anything with a message,” she says, her eyes lighting up. Despite the challenges she had to overcome, and the daily struggles she currently faces, Laura remains positive and hopeful. “When I look for something, I always find it,” she says.