UN Buffer Zone has become for some time now a “home” for a number of asylum seekers who arrived in Cyprus through Turkey. A visit by Cypriot journalists to the UN Buffer Zone in Aglantzia area, where 25 asylum seekers are being stranded was organised on Wednesday by UNHCR and UNFICYP.

Emilia Strovolidou, the UNHCR Cyprus Communications Officer, told journalists that there are two locations in the UN Buffer Zone where a total of 37 asylum seekers are staying. Twenty-five (25) are staying in Aglantzia and twelve (12) are staying in Akaki. There are also six people who have disappeared, she said. There are 8 children in total, 4 in Aglantzia and 4 in Akaki.

Overall, since mid-May a total of 43 persons have been intercepted in their attempt to seek international protection in Cyprus, she added. As regards the origin of the asylum seekers, Strovolidou said that people staying in Aglantzia come from Afghanistan, Iran, Sudan and Cameroon, while most people staying in Akaki come from Syria.

She added that they are staying in tents provided by UNFICYP and UNHCR and she also spoke of inadequate reception conditions, as there is no running water. She further said that UNHCR and UNFICYP provide food and bottled water, but they are not adequate for all the needs. ‘’As of 21st of June, UNHCR and the Red Cross have been providing three meals per day. The Cyprus Government provides canned food and bottled water,’’ she said.

As regards emergency medical aid, the UNHCR Cyprus Communications Officer said that it is provided in state hospitals after coordination and collaboration with UNFICYP and UNHCR. ‘’After their discharge, people are returned back and further pushed back to this area,’’ she said out. Non-emergency care is provided by UNHCR, including medicines.

Strovolidou said that there are people with vulnerabilities, including physical disabilities and mental health conditions, which exacerbate the situation they are faced with. She also spoke of the ‘’extreme weather conditions’’, such as ‘’the repeated heatwave, humidity and dust’’ and also said that there are complaints about snakes, while noting that ‘’people are losing hope day by day”. Some of them have been here for nearly two months, which is a huge period of time,’ the UNHCR Cyprus Communications Officer said, adding that ‘’they find themselves in limbo’’.

The UN community, she said, is asking the Government of Cyprus to allow these people access to the asylum procedures, access to dignified living conditions, to have their claims examined. As regards those who are in need of international protection, Strovolidou said that the UN are asking for them to be afforded protection, while those who don’t deserve to be returned to their home countries in a humane manner. “This is a situation that needs urgent attention,’’ she said.

Strovolidou said that these people cannot be returned to the Turkish-occupied part of Cyprus, because there is no asylum infrastructure there. Because of that, as she explained, they may be returned to their countries through Turkey without being able to guarantee access to the asylum procedures and that would be dangerous for their lives.

‘’UNHCR believes that safety should be assessed on an individual basis, on the surrounding circumstances of each asylum claim,’’ the Communications Officer of the Agency went on to say. She also spoke of people who have fled conflict, serious human rights violation, including gender-based violence. ‘’We need to have their claims assessed and this obligation lies at this moment with the Republic of Cyprus,’’ she added.

Emilia Strovolidou further said that ‘’the EU law applies also in the Buffer Zone, which is confirmed by the European Commission.’’

Mashal, a 24-year-old woman from Afghanistan, said that she has been staying in the Buffer Zone for 6-7 days, explaining that she came to Cyprus with her family, namely her parents and her two younger siblings, through Iran and Turkey. She also said that they arrived in the Turkish-occupied part of Cyprus by boat, crossed the Buffer Zone and ended up in Potamia village without being intercepted by the Cyprus Police.

Once they were detected in the Government-controlled areas, they were transferred to the Buffer Zone by the Cyprus Police, Mashal claimed. Before their transfer, she said that they were taken to a police station in the government-controlled areas where, she claims, were left standing in the sun and they had their phones confiscated.

Replying to a question she said that her father paid an amount of money so that the whole family could flee Afghanistan, adding that he would not tell his family of the exact amount.

Asked about the reasons of the family’s decision to flee Afghanistan, Mashal said that her family was threatened by the Taliban regime because of her father’s job and the fact that the Taliban regime did not approve of the way he practised Islam. As a result, they changed home and school every year.

‘’We cannot stay here. I also lost my hope now. Everyone is coming and going, but nothing is changing. If someone dies here, who will take the responsibility?’’ she said. ‘’If someone is sick, the ambulance will come after 2-3 hours,’’ she added.

On her part, 8-year-old Sosan, Mashal’s younger sister, expressed the wish to go to school, adding that she has never attended classes while also expressing fear for living in the buffer zone.

Modasser, a man from Afghanistan at the age of 34, said that he has been in Cyprus for almost one year. He was pursuing a postgraduate degree in the Turkish-occupied part of Cyprus, and to avoid being sent back to Afghanistan he decided to cross to the government-controlled areas of Cyprus.

Modasser said that he has served in projects for ministries of the Afghan Government before the Taliban took over and that his father had worked at the US Embassy in Afghanistan for more than 10 years. ‘’If the Taliban found about us (our family), they would make us disappear, torture us or kill us,’’ he said.

Modasser said that this is his second week in the Buffer Zone and referred to the difficulties they are faced with saying that the Republic of Cyprus “must have a pity on us”.

Sef, a 24-year-old man from Sudan, has been in the Buffer Zone for almost two months. He came to Cyprus through Turkey trying to flee the war-torn country, he said adding that he was not stopped in the Buffer Zone and reached the Government-controlled areas. He also said that while he was crossing the Buffer Zone, he saw a UN military camp and told them what had happened to him. He was brought to the Buffer Zone on the 15th of May.

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