Cyprus: Kurdish refugees’ victory

"For the first time in my life I feel I am a human being"

This is how Azad, a young Kurd from Syria, in his mid 20s, who has only been in Cyprus for 5 months, described the tremendous victory won against the Cypriot Government. “When we came to Nicosia from the other parts of Cyprus, to demonstrate, we thought it was going to be a matter of 2 to 3 hours. In the end, it took 16 days and nights”.

The Kurdish political asylum-seekers (like all other political refugees) were denied their legal rights by the Cyprus government as explained in our previous report. The Cypriot government, after 16 days of struggle, was forced to retreat and satisfy all their immediate demands, and start the process of examining each individual case for political asylum.

The Kurds after camping in tents in the central square of Nicosia and then moving and occupying the Red Cross headquarters achieved:

  • Valid permits to stay, medical cards and identity cards, including their children in all the documents.
  • Temporary housing for all in need, until they get a monthly welfare benefit.
  • An emergency lump sum of money, to satisfy immediate needs.
  • Work permits complying with existing collective agreements.
  • The release of a Pakistani demonstrator arrested during the mobilisations.
  • A meeting with the minister of the interior in the next 15 days to discuss the general problems of the Kurds.
  • Supervision of the agreement by United Nations (UNHCR) and KISA (movement for equality, support and antiracism).

This is an unprecedented victory for immigrants/political asylum seekers in Cyprus. The Kurdish political refugees greeted the retreat of the government with enthusiasm. We asked Mehmet Ali, the recognised leader of the struggling Kurds about this victory.

He said: “This is not a victory only for the 100 or so of us who stood out for so long, this is a victory for all migrants in Cyprus. And the conclusion that they must draw is that only through struggles they can achieve their rights. We won because we were determined not to go back. The main lesson of this struggle is that nobody can block the will of the people, once they move on the road of determined struggle”.

Mehmet Ali also spoke about the CWI. “‘Thankyou’ is too little to express our feelings for the work done internationally by your organisation. We’ll never forget the assistance we received. From now on, we’ll fight together for the rights of all the oppressed, irrespective of colour, religion, nationality wherever they are”.

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May 2006