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Tents for gypsies 'not a human rights violation'
in The Cyprus Weekly, Oct. 26 - Nov. 1, 2001

by Menelaos Hadjicostia

Putting up dozens of gypsies in tents is neither an affront to their dignity, nor some kind of human rights barometer that will gauge the island's chances of joining the European Union, Interior Minister Christodoulos Christodoulou said this week. "A lot of gypsies have all come at once and, admittedly, we didn't and still don't have the proper facilities to house them all in permanent residences," Christodoulou said. Christodoulou's remarks came after Foreign Minister Yiannakis Cassoulides said on Monday that treatment of gypsies will have a bearing on whether the island accedes to the EU.

More than 150 gypsies have streamed in to the government-controlled areas over the last two weeks, forcing authorities to pitch tents to shelter them temporarily until they receive medical check-ups and their ID is verified. Sixty tents were pitched at a football field in the Larnaca village of Mesoyia for new arrivals, while 27 gypsies, who trekked across the divide last weekend have been housed in four tents outside Kofinou.

Reversal

The switch to tents came after a government policy reversal not to allow gypsies to settle where they please due to a housing crunch in the old Turkish Cypriot neighbourhoods in Paphos and Limassol. Overcrowded homes in those two towns (in one case where 30 gypsies were sharing a three-bedroom house) had some neighbours up in arms over noise and untidiness problems. Kofinou residents complained that it did not take long for the gypsies to stir up trouble in their village after they started going door-to-door begging for food and money.

Although stressing that gypsies are accorded full rights under the law, Christodoulou nevertheless, shrugged off suggestions that tents posed a humanitarian problem. "I don't think that the tent issue is some kind of yardstick for human rights. Some 200,000 Cypriot citizens lived for several years in tents after the Turkish invasion," he said. The Interior Minister added that the gypsies most often pack up and leave for the occupied areas even before authorities had a chance to scout around for appropriate housing.

Allowance

They don't remain permanently in one place. They stay a few days and leave," said Christodoulou, repeating that a full one-fifth of the gypsies have crossed over a second time this year to collect welfare handouts before heading back to spend it in the occupied north. Labour Minister Andreas Moushouttas said last week that of the 290 gypsies currently living in the government areas, 220 are receiving a state allowance each fortnight, which is awarded according to status and age. Each family head receives CYP 150, dependents over the age of 14 receive CYP 75 and dependents under 14 get CYP 67.50. Christodoulou said last week that gypsies would forgo the allowances if they failed to either stay put in homes allocated to them or to take jobs that are found for them.


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