The 27-day protest and hunger strike by the Kurdish community in Cyprus ended abruptly Friday morning as Cypriot police and security officers raided their makeshift camp, arriving in armoured military vehicles. The protestors were arrested, put into buses and transferred to detention centres.
250 Kurdish asylum seekers from Syria, including 65 children, had been living in bright orange and green tents pitched outside the Interior Ministry in Nicosia, the Cypriot capital, for almost four weeks to try and obtain refugee rights and bring attention to the condition of Kurds in Syria.
Police detained 149 of the protestors along with all their belongings. Of the 42 children taken in, 13 were released with their parents and another three were expected to be released. Eighty-two, however, were found to be in Cyprus illegally following a rejection of their asylum applications and now face certain deportation.
A spokesperson for the Kurdish Syrian Yekiti Party, which organised the demonstration, said, ‘We are demonstrating for refugee rights for Syrian Kurds in Cyprus. Iraqi Kurds get asylum here, and Syrian Kurds in other EU countries get refugee rights. Cyprus just rejects and deports us.’
He wants refugee rights because, as a recognised refugee and Yekiti party member, this status would mean recognition of the Syrian Kurdish struggle for freedom from oppression. ‘When you give me refugee status, I can ask for rights for [my] people in Syria.’
Because of Cypriot asylum policies, the number of Kurds from Syria living in Cyprus, which stood at 3,000 five years ago, has dwindled to half that today. Many have fled to other European countries such as Switzerland or Germany where they are recognised as refugees. Dozens, however, have been deported back to Syria.
One of the better-publicised cases of deportation was that of 20-year old Berzani Karro, who was deported back to Syria from Cyprus in June 2009. He was arrested upon his arrival at Damascus airport. According to Amnesty International, Karro was sentenced to two and a half years imprisonment, following three months of detention incommunicado. He was also tortured. Amnesty International considers Karro a prisoner of conscience.
The Kurdish minority in Syria, some 10% of the population, faces severe restrictions on cultural and linguistic expression, and systematic and pervasive human rights abuses by the Ba’athist regime. A state of emergency has been in force since 1963, giving the security agencies virtually unlimited authority to arrest suspects and hold them incommunicado for prolonged periods without charge (Freedom House, Freedom in the World 2010 Report).
A local Cypriot NGO, KISA (Action for Equality, Support, Antiracism), stated in its press release regarding the protestors, ‘The Kurds are now in danger of being deported back to Syria, where for sure at least some of them will end up in Syrian jails.
KISA also commented that ‘[d]espite the serious violations of human rights of the Syrian Kurds, the [Cypriot] Asylum Service continues the political rejection of almost all the asylum applications. We understand that not all these people may be entitled to the status of a recognised refugee. However, we consider that on the basis of refugees rights, and steering away from political expediencies, some other temporary protection and stay status could be granted.’
KISA urged the Cypriot government to ‘show restraint and to continue efforts for solutions to ensure that there will be no mandatory return and to ensure work which provides [the asylum seekers] with the necessary resources for the welfare of their families.’
Soparo, a Kurdish group of writers, journalists, and technicians from Syria and working in the field of electronic media, is preparing an urgent appeal to the international community, including human rights organisations, the offices of the European Union, and the European Commissioner in Nicosia to press the Cypriot government not to deport the remaining Kurds, to consider the demands of the Kurdish Syrian community and to respond to their demands regarding their right to asylum and residence in the context of current EU laws. Sobaro’s motto is: hand in hand against oppression and tyranny.
The coordinator of this campaign at Soparo is Bilal Salah El-Din. To add your name to their letter of appeal, please send an email to him at: email@example.com.
Dewhurst, Patrick. Kurds set up ‘tent city’ in asylum protest. Cyprus Mail, 22 May 2010.
Ioannou, Nicola. Police swoop on Kurdish camp. Cyprus Mail, 12 June 2010.
Press release on Kurdish Demo (Greek) KISA (Action for Equality, Support, Antiracism), 10 June 2010.
نداء عاجل : بيان تضامني مع معتصمي الجالية الكوردية في قبرص Soparo, 12 June 2010.
Syria: Briefing to the Committee against Torture (Index Number: MDE 24/008/2010). Amnesty International, 20 April 2010. [references to Berzani Karro]