World Refugee Day 2009 activity by OPEC

Weaving Mill With Minister of Interior, Minister Labour and Social Insurance, Lenia Samuel, Deputy Director General, DG Employment, Social Affairs and EQUAL opportunities, European Commission.
Non verbatim speech, UNHCR Representative in Cyprus, Cristina Planas.

Honorable Ministers, ladies and gentleman, colleagues and friends.

Many thanks to OPEC for celebrating the World Refugee Day, for organizing this discussion and for inviting UNHCR.

Until December 31 2001, UNHCR was conducting Refugee Status Determination in Cyprus. Those found having a well-founded fear of persecution were resettled to other countries. In Cyprus there were no structures, no systems, a refugee law had been passed in Parliament in recent years.

Now, in 2009, there are good laws, solid institutions and 1300 refugees in Cyprus.

Cyprus is an example in the region, at the very least, not because the asylum practice is deficient in them, but because in not even 10 years Cyprus has achieved what many other countries have not achieved in decades. This is definitely a landmark.

Cyprus landed running, from not processing asylum claims at all to have to process them in thousands.

These should make those who contributed to make it possible proud, very proud. Yet, as I am representing UNHCR, the organization that strives to persuade countries to grant a second chance of dignifying life to persons who suffered persecution, violence, torture, all the above progress should not be reason for full complacency. In the humanitarian world only the best should satisfy us. We own this to the people who suffered persecution. The Cypriot population can understand this better than anybody else.

I want to thank the Minister of Interior, and not because he is here, not because he is seating next to me, but because in the opinion of UNHCR he fully deserves it for having confronted in a determined fashion the problem number one in asylum in Cyprus; for keeping a sharp eye on asylum despite his large portfolio, for his leadership in the EU for a common resettlement system, for his present concentration in integration.

Because all the humanitarians wish only the best for those harmed, humiliated, disposed refugees, the survivors, there is a need to struggle and:

a. Coordinate among all institutions to ensure employment for refugees, subsidiary protection beneficiaries and asylum seekers.

b. Improve systems to maximize the great potential of Cyprus to absorb and benefit from refugees.

c. Concentrate mentally on those who need international protection and not in those “that are cheating” the system, therefore replacing disbelief and mistrust by inclusion.

d. A great measure of success would be that the number of citizens who value the wealth of diversity is increased; increase the number of people who see that diversity reinforces identity and does and is not a threat to it.

e. Increase the sectors of the population who see advantages in population movements/migration –in any case irreversible- instead of perseveringly repeating the disadvantages.

f. Through public awareness increase the role of the population in integration. Hopefully more Cypriots will become activists and lobby the Government to go well above the minimum standards of the EU, instead of people writing to the newspapers shouting to go below them.

To conclude, at 11:30 in the gardens of the Nicosia Town Hall, UNHCR´s exhibition “Refugees: real people, real needs” is being launched by Eleni Mavrou, Major of Nicosia, you are all invited to attend when this discussion is concluded.

Thanks to all of you.

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