Cyprus: Major victory for Kurdish’ Refugees Rights Campaign in Cyprus

Refugees to get either asylum or a stay permit

The international campaign for the rights of the Kurdish refugees who live in Cyprus, launched by the CWI, won a very important success over the past few days: the Cypriot government has made a clear commitment that none of the about 100 (107 to be precise) Kurdish refugees who were threatened with deportation would be harmed. On the contrary, all their cases would be reexamined and the refugees would get either asylum or a stay permit.

Historical background

Last May the Kurdish refugees fought for their rights by occupying the central square of Nicosia and the headquarters of the Red Cross for 16 days.

The Cypriot government was then forced to consent to their immediate demands, like work permits, housing, medical care, welfare benefits etc. The international campaign, which was carried by the CWI, during the events last May played an unquestionable role in the success of the struggle of the Kurdish refugees.

Immediately after this however, the Cyprus authorities began to examine the applications of the Kurdish refugees for political asylum and to reject them massively and without exception. To react to this the CWI started a new campaign demanding asylum (or work permits) for the Kurdish refugees.

In the second half of October the Cypriot section of the CWI took part in an initiative to create the Cypriot/Kurdish Friendship Association to exert pressure on the government. Hundreds of organisations – trade unions, social organisations, political organisations and other – together with hundreds of individuals, sent messages of protest to the Cypriot government. On 10 November pickets were organised outside Cypriot embassies in various countries. This was something that caused a lot of worry to the Cypriot government.

The visit of the Greek delegation to Cyprus

In the context of the international campaign a delegation was sent from Greece to visit officials of the Cypriot government, between 30 November and 3 December. In case this delegation failed to get commitments from the Cypriot government, the plan was to organise new protests outside Cypriot embassies from the newyear onwards and a new international delegation to visit the island to exert pressure on the government.

The Greek delegation was made up of

  • a representative of the General Confederation of Greek Workers (the Greek TUC) and Synaspismos (Left Democratic Party), Dimitris Stratoulis
  • a representative of the teachers union, Thodoris Vourekas
  • a representative of the Greek Social Forum and Youth Against Racism in Europe, Christina Ziaka
  • and a representative of the international campaign, Andros Payiatsos.

The Greek delegation met initially the Cypriot/Kurdish Friendship Association for information and coordination and then had successive meetings with

  • the general secretary of the Pan-Cyprian Workers Federation (PEO), Babis Kiritsis,
  • the President of the Cypriot Parliament and general secretary of AKEL, Dimitris Christofias,
  • and the Minister of the Interior, Neoklis Silikiotis.

The result of these meetings was a clear undertaking to solve the problem of the 107 Kurdish refugees either by granting asylum or by granting work permits (as mentioned above).

For the practical details of the application of these policies the Minister committed himself to regular meetings with the Cypriot/Kurdish Friendship Association.

A very important victory

This represents a very important development. The campaign to defend the rights of the Kurdish refugees has actually saved 107 Kurdish fighters who will be able to continue their struggle not only for the rights of refugees and migrants but also for the rights of the Kurdish people against national oppression in the countries where they live (Syria, Turkey, Iraq, Iran).

We have no knowledge of any other European country where rights have been won for such a big group of refugees/migrants. As a rule governments refuse to negotiate about groups and discuss only about individual cases.

On guard

Of course the campaign for the rights of the Kurdish refugees can not rely on the promises of a minister. The problem will only be solved when these promises are turned into practical measures. Therefore we will keep on guard because we know that there are forces within the Cypriot government that will fight against these concessions made by the ministry.

Police harassment will certainly continue on every possible occasion. The question of how many refugees will be granted political asylum, will come up. The question of the duration of the work permits will also be posed. This minister might be replaced in a few months time – what will happen then? This government may fall – what will happen then? These are very real issues and very real dangers about the agreement and how it will be applied.

For this reason the international campaign for the rights of the Kurdish refugees will have to stay on guard and will collaborate closely with the Cypriot/Kurdish Friendship Association in Cyprus.

Of course it is not easy for the Cypriot authorities to go back on these promises. The President of the Cypriot Parliament and the Minister of the Interior have both committed themselves in front of mass Greek trade union and political organisations to keep the above mentioned promises and to remain in constant contact with the Cypriot/Kurdish Friendship Association.

They know that if they go back on these promises, they will be once again confronted with new international campaigns, with new pickets outside Cypriot embassies and with new visits by international delegations to Cyprus to condemn the policies of the Cypriot government and to exert pressure for a change of policy.

Valuable lessons

The Kurdish refugees greeted the result with unprecedented enthusiasm. It has been a great experience for them. They have drawn extremely valuable lessons from this, as they had illusions in the past in the Cypriot government, the UN, legal procedures, etc.

This has been a victory not only for the Kurdish refugees but also for every antiracist and socialist fighter in Cyprus, Greece and internationally.

The Greek and Cyprus sections of the CWI want to thank warmly and send their warmest greeting to the other sections of the CWI who fought for this campaign and helped to achieve this wonderful result.

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December 2006