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Gypsies released from remand cells
in The Cyprus Weekly, April 20-26, 2001
by Menelaos Hadjicostia
Some 45 Turkish Cypriot gypsies were released from Nicosia Central Prison's remand cells on Wednesday night, after Attorney General Alecos Markides intervened following allegations they were being illegally detained.
Twenty-six gypsies, including 10 children, left for the occupied areas yesterday after spending the night at an undisclosed Nicosia hotel, while the rest made their way to Paphos to attempt to begin a new life.
Those who crossed over said they wanted to go back because they could not find work in the free areas, while their expectations that they would automatically be housed and given monthly welfare benefits of CYP 150 each were dashed.
A total of 154 gypsies crossed over from the north in March in a bid to escape the economic drudgery of a bankrupt occupation regime. Most of them have settled in Paphos and were put up in former Turkish Cypriot homes.
House Human Rights Committee Chairman Yiannakis Agapiou and members George Christofides and Marios Matsakis visited the prison yesterday to confirm that the gypsies had all been released.
"Their release dispels some very negative impressions that the gypsies were being held against their will. This has now been corrected," said Agapiou emerging from the prison.
The 45 gypsies had been kept in remand cells out of a lack of a proper facility where they could be housed and properly vetted to determine their identity following fears that Turkish spies were lurking within the group.
Agapiou said seven gypsies remained in the cells, three of whom were identified as mainland Turks and remanded on suspicion of illegally entering the island.
"The cells are not a five-star hotel as some have said, but they're not decrepit. They may even be better than their previous accommodations," said Agapiou.
Matsakis said the other four were the Turks' spouses and children, who chose to stay in the cells of their own accord and be with their loved ones.
"Their rights are by no means being violated and the government's behaviour towards them has been excellent. In fact the privilege accorded to the family members to remain with their loved ones is something that citizens don't even get," said Matsakis.
The visit to the prison was prompted by the committee's doubts over assurances by Justice Minister Nicos Koshis that no gypsies were being held at the detention cells without a remand order being issued against them.
The assurances followed vehement denials by Interior Minister Christodoulos Christodoulou that the gypsies not under remand were being held against their will or had their freedom of movement restricted in any way.
"They were not being detained, but rather restricted to a specific place with the right to come and go as they please, but on the condition that if they chose not to return, they would receive no help or benefits," said Christodoulou.
Christodoulou had earlier come under a blistering attack from Markides, who suspected that the Interior Minister was just dishing out legal double-talk to tip-toe around what really amounted to detainment.
Markides drew up an emergency bill tabled before parliament yesterday prohibiting the unlawful detention of people without a court order.
The bill, however, got bogged down in a legal snag and was put aside before coming up before Plenum for a vote.
But in an effort to keep the issue from blowing up in the government's face, Government Spokesman Michalis Papapetrou pulled rank and quickly put out the embers underneath a simmering row between Markides and Christodoulou.
"The bill does not specifically refer to the gypsy issue, but was raised earlier by the House Human Rights Committee, while the Attorney General's office was tasked to draw up legislation to fill a void in our law," said Papapetrou.
Meanwhile, ruffled Paphians are still clamouring against the arrival of any more gypsies, after six more joined the 92 already residing in the district.
Paphians were up in arms after Paphos District Officer Andreas Christodoulides revealed that several gypsies had abandoned their assigned homes and relocated to other communities.
All 98 gypsies now living in Paphos are Turkish
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