Dom Research Center   News Clippings: Cyprus


New facility to deal with gypsy influx
in The Cyprus Weekly, Nov. 2-8, 2001

by Menelaos Hadjicostia

Dropping tents in favour of more permanent digs, the government will break ground on a new facility to put a solid roof over the heads of gypsies seeking refuge in the government-controlled areas, said Interior Minister Christodoulos Christodoulou. "We will go ahead with plans to build the facility providing humane living conditions to all those gypsies, who arrive here for a short time before they turn back to the occupied areas," said Christodoulou on Monday.

Over 150 gypsies crossing the divide in the last three weeks created a housing crunch in the old Turkish Cypriot neighbourhoods in Paphos and Limassol, where most have chosen to settle. Overcrowded homes in the two towns had flustered authorities scrambling last week to pitch a combined 87 tents near Mesoyia and Kofinou to temporarily house some of the gypsies until they receive medical checkups and their IDs are verified. Although most gypsies declared that they were pleased with their lodgings, living conditions were less than ideal - particularly the toilet shortage. Christodoulou said the new quarters will afford new arrivals with adequate and comfortable washroom facilities. Gypsies will be provided with either ready-made food, or given the means to cook for themselves.

However, the Interior Minister put the brakes on any further arrivals to Paphos and Limassol, saying that the two towns have already reached a gypsy saturation point. "It's also a matter of locating them in areas where they can best occupy themselves. Paphos and Limassol already host a large number of gypsies," Christodoulou added. It had not taken long for residents of the two towns to start firing off complaints that overcrowding sparked noise and untidiness problems. Some Kofinou residents even complained that a few gypsies started going door to door begging for food and money shortly after their arrival at the tent city. "The new facilities will be located somewhere along the boundaries between Nicosia and Larnaca Districts and will be 3 kms from the nearest residential area," said Christodoulou. The Interior Minister said last week that the gypsies' track record so far showed that they most often pack up and leave for the occupied areas even before authorities had a chance to scout out more appropriate housing. "They don't remain permanently in one place. They stay a few days and leave," said Christodoulou. He had noted that a full one-fifth of the gypsies who are in the government-controlled areas, crossed over a second time this year to collect welfare handouts before heading back to spend it in the occupied north.

Of the 290 gypsies currently living in the government areas, 220 are receiving a state allowance each fortnight which is divided up 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 has also warned that gypsies would forgo the allowances if they fail to either stay put in homes allocated to them or accept jobs that are found for them.

Meanwhile, Christodoulou warned of a wave of Afghan refugees fleeing their war-torn country in droves, heading for Europe and possibly landing on Cypriot shores. "While so far we have been talking about two million people mainly from Iraq, Turkish Kurds and Africans, now we can add 1.5 million Afghans seeking a better life and safety in countries such as Cyprus, Greece, Italy and other European countries," said Christodoulou. He said that authorities will follow the European example of fending off the expected mass wave, but conceded that the task would be virtually impossible. "Those who do manage to come, will be dealt with in the most humane manner," said Christodoulou, adding that the worst case scenario is if the Afghans arrived from Turkey through the occupied areas. The Interior Minister said in that case, authorities would deport them back to their point of origin, but not through Turkey.


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