“Europe: the treatment of refugees and immigrants” – Address by Neoklis Sylikiotis
Address by the member of the Political Bureau of the C.C. of AKEL Neoklis Sylikiotis at the meeting:
“Europe: the treatment of refugees and immigrants”
14th November 2019, Socio-Cultural Centre Pallouriotissa, Nicosia
I could have begun my address with one of the thousands of shocking and tragic refugee stories I saw, knew and heard.
I could have started my address by citing the humanitarian sentiments of us all.
I could have begun my address by pointing out that we must remain human; that we must not forget that we are talking about people.
I could have begun by recalling that we Cypriots are a refugee people. They made us a people of refugees and immigrants.
I won’t do so because we can no longer claim that we don’t know. This conflict has been raging next to us for ten years now, literally next to us, we have seen it all. And we all had to take a stand. And we’ve done so before when we saw little Aylan lying dead on the shore. We all know. Now the question is what position each and every one takes.
So we, who consciously believe that human beings, their rights and needs must be put above all else, must discuss how we can contribute so that those who are being hunted and arrive here will find human compassion and solidarity, but also how we can act on an institutional level so that that the state can fulfill its obligations in line with international and European conventions.
But first let’s look at the root causes that have created the drama we are witnessing today in the Mediterranean and Europe.
We have taken to the streets many times, together with the international left movement, but also the peace-loving forces of the region, to demonstrate against wars and interventionist policies.
A characteristic example is the demonstrations we organized on Syria.
What is occurring in the Eastern Mediterranean today is the result of the US, NATO and EU imperialist plans which have been flagrantly violating international law for decades and which are promoting the redrawing of borders so as to safeguard their own geopolitical interests, and secure their own control over resources and energy pipelines.
The ongoing tragedies in the Mediterranean Sea leave no person indifferent. Every day new numbers are added to the list of dead. Refugees, including children, are losing their lives trying to escape from ongoing wars and mass poverty.
The ongoing tragedy makes the need for the EU to proceed to a radical overhaul and revision of its refugee policy even more imperative.
We are exerting pressure for the fair distribution of burdens according to each country’s GDP, as well as the implementation of a common asylum system ensuring the free movement of refugees throughout European territory.
– We call for dignified conditions for the temporary accommodation of asylum seekers in line with UN standards, with the EU’s financial assistance and for the way in which asylum applications are processed to be improved.
– We call for a permanent and fair system of refugee resettlement so that states, particularly from the Mediterranean which receive the bulk of refugees, are relieved.
So far, the EU has focused solely on strengthening its external borders, constructing concentration camps and accelerating mass deportations. In fact, to keep refugees out of its borders, it didn’t hesitate to give, even to Turkey, which daily tramples on human rights and the principles of Democracy, the title of “safe country of destination”.
The decisions approved to relocate refugees to member states have not been implemented, while European governments are reintroducing stricter border controls to exclude refugees, applying brutal repressive measures and erecting fences and walls.
So the EU now has dual responsibilities for the refugee crisis. It has been participating in imperialist interventions that have uprooted millions of people from their home countries and is now sealing its gates so that refugees cannot find refuge in Europe.
In Cyprus, boats with destitute refugees are arriving continuously, including children and pregnant women.
The number of refugees may be small, but in proportion to the population of Cyprus, there are many emerging needs and the country cannot respond adequately without the EU providing support.
Unfortunately, the Anastasiades-DISY government still has no strategy to address the refugee crisis.
Its policy for accommodating refugees is non-existent, while it has even failed to make use of the European funds to which the Republic of Cyprus is entitled to.
All the government does is to indulge in xenophobic and racist statements, such as those we have often heard lately from the Minister of Interior and leading officials of governing DISY party that Cyprus cannot withstand any more immigrants.
The fact is that the Republic of Cyprus lags far behind in welcoming and integrating refugees and asylum seekers. More specifically:
- As a rule the examination of asylum applications lasts 3 to 5 years.
- The housing problem plagues asylum seekers, as well as Cypriots in recent years, with the difference that the former as completely vulnerable are often called upon to face completely inhumane conditions. The state is currently granting 100 euros in rent allowance to asylum seekers. How an asylum seeker can find a place to rent in Cyprus today is a question that the authorities must give an answer to.
- With regards employment, although the scope has expanded the prevailing bureaucracy discourages most employers.
- As far as education is concerned, the existing institutional and structural problems don’t permit many demands. Let’s just focus on the basics: children shouldn’t be mere observers like they are today, but instead they should be participants. Even more important is for a program for effective access to education for refugee children to be elaborated.
- There is another acute phenomenon: the examination of social welfare applications usually takes months, resulting in people forced to be completely dependent on the goodwill of numerous other voluntary organizations, NGO’s, etc.
Most important of all, however, is integration policy. This policy hasn’t been updated since December 2010 when it was first formulated.
Cyprus has recently been criticized by the Council of Europe for the fact that the Cypriot Government has not developed a policy for integrating migrants.
Migration is a complex and timeless issue that will not stop unless its root causes are radically addressed.
AKEL, both at a national and European level, together with the European Union Left Group, will continue to struggle against policies that are forcing people to flee their home country to survive.
We shall continue to work to ensure that the rights and dignity of every person are respected within the framework of an immigration policy part of a broader social and development policy.
As AKEL we want to listen to your suggestions and the proposals of all those concerned with the issue so that we can formulate positions and proposals.
In conclusion, I feel the need to call on all of us to work together to combat the racist climate that is being cultivated not only by the far-right, but by the Right too.
One must not forget that the far-right employs racism and xenophobia to grow. And unfortunately the Right-wing in Cyprus believes that it will manage to maintain its electoral percentage if it adopts extreme-right rhetoric. The result, however, is that they are poisoning society.
You see, as far as these forces are concerned, demographic alteration is not threatened by someone of another nationality asking to be granted a Cypriot passport and paying millions of Euros for it.
However, we always have to remember that no one chooses to become a refugee or a migrant. He/she is forced to become a refugee and a migrant.
Those forcing them to be so are our real opponents.
Intervention of Georgos Koukoumas, member of the C.C. of AKEL and the International Relations Department, at the Hearing “Palestine: What’s Next?” organized by GUE/NGL2015-07-1
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