The UNHCR has sounded the alarm over the miserable living conditions of many asylum seekers in Cyprus, saying some are sleeping in parks or in completely unsuitable housing.
UNHCR information officer Emilia Strovolidou told the Cyprus News Agency that the housing problem for asylum seekers was very acute. Some are forced to sleep in the open, others in unsuitable housing without water or electricity and without mattresses.
The problem started two years ago and has been growing at an alarming rate.
“We have many instances of people who are either homeless or at risk of being left homeless because of the problems with the system for asylum seekers. This in combination with the fact that asylum seekers depend on a social support system which is inadequate while no effort is made for them to work so that they can cover their needs,” she said.
In some cases, applicants can start working one month after submitting their application but in very few sectors of the economy -such as agriculture, livestock breeding, cleaners for the exterior of buildings.
“There are not enough shelters and in addition rents are very high. Therefore housing is a huge problem for asylum seekers in Cyprus.”
The role of the UNHCR is advisory and it is the government that has the primary responsibility under international conventions to cover the rights of refugees.
She said she did not have any numbers but had seen reports in the press of 200 homeless people, including EU citizens. The problem is in all the times. And with the arrival of more asylum seekers, demands on the system, including for housing, will only rise.
“This issue is very worrying, it is one of basic concerns and we have bee sounding the alarm for at least two years. We have issued statements to the press, we have published stories of people facing this problem, therefore it is something that concerns us that we are discussing with the various government departments.”
All state bodies should sit down for a comprehensive approach to the whole asylum issue so that there can be solutions, she added.
Housing was not the only issue. The coupon system also has weaknesses as coupons are not given in the beginning of the month and in many cases not given at all and asylum seekers rely on the charity of people or of NGOs to cover their basics.
“At some point the charitable organisations will not be a position to cover these needs,” she said.