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Living in derelict ruins: the Roma of Limassol

in Cyprus Weekly
Sunday, November 30, 2003

by Christina Koutalis

LIMASSOL’S Turkish Cypriot quarter currently plays host to a population of about 350 or so Roma. Predictably, not everyone in the area is happy about their new neighbours, with many complaints from local residents. But Limassol district officer Nicos Roussos insists that plans are under way to solve the problem and better integrate the local population.

The residents of the Turkish Cypriot quarter are a mixture of Roma (or Gypsies), Turkish Cypriots and refugees. The Roma began coming across the Green Line, mainly from the Morphou area, a couple of years back. As Cypriots, they are entitled to full benefits from the state, which has been providing housing for them, mainly in traditional Turkish Cypriot areas of Limassol and Paphos.

But longer-standing residents - including local Turkish Cypriots - are derogatory about their new Gypsy neighbours, frequently complaining that they create disorder and keep the area in a filthy state.

Most of the Roma are concentrated in one street of the Turkish Cypriot quarter of the city, living in miserable conditions.

As I walked down the street last week, I was befriended by two little girls, aged seven and nine. The seven-year-old, Aishe Mavidenis, invited me into her house, which looked derelict from the outside, almost a bombed out ruin. There were no windows or balcony doors on the side overlooking the street; it was chipped, dirty and literally ready to fall apart.

The inside of the house was blatantly unfit for human habitation with non-existent sanitary conditions and no electricity and water.

“The living conditions of the Gypsies are not ideal,” Roussos admitted. “In many cases, they are unacceptable.”

But things were getting better, he said. “Comparing their behaviour when they first started coming two years ago and their behaviour today, despite the fact that their number is increasing, I think they’re gradually adjusting to our way of life.

“Of course, they can’t change overnight, but they seem to be getting rid of some habits that differed from ours dramatically. In time, they can blend in with the greater public. Some local residents do complain - sometimes unjustifiably and other times they are right to complain.”

The positive side of things is that steps have already been taken to solve the problem one way or another. The local residents want the Gypsies gone, but the Gypsies don’t want to leave. They claim their families used to live in Limassol before the war and want to stay.

In addition, the central location is convenient. “For the first time, we managed to send a significant number of the Gypsy children to elementary schools,” Roussos said, and their location now provides easy access to them.

The government did in the past try to move the Gypsies to another part of town, but their efforts broke down. “The relocation of the Gypsies to another area has not been possible so far despite all the effort we made,” he said.

“There are some thoughts now,” he added, “about creating a unit in some other part of Limassol where some of these Gypsies can be transferred, provided they agree to it. We promised them that no matter where they get transferred to, they will be provided with amenities, and transportation to places where they can work, for example in agricultural areas so they can work in farming.”

The government is doing something to solve this problem, but the uneasy relations with residents in the area have highlighted the issue of the Roma lifestyle and raised questions about their future integration. Should the government force them to conform to accepted social norms, and are efforts to do so a violation of their right to maintain a centuries-old way of life? Is it right to relocate a community somewhere on its own or do they need to adapt their way of life so they can blend in with the rest of the society?

Roussos was in little doubt. He insisted their way of life was improving showing and that they were slowly blending in, but warned it was a long process.

Copyright © Cyprus Mail 2004

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of each individual author. The views and opinions do not represent those held by the Dom Research Center.

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