Summary of the opening remarks of UNHCR Public Information Officer
Individuals who flee their countries because of war or human rights violations are in need of International Protection. International protection entails access to fair and effective asylum procedures, food, shelter, clothing, medical care, education, employment, possession of documents such as identification, passports, birth certificates, family unity – it means having a decent life. International protection is the obligation of states (including Cyprus) that have signed the 1951 Convention on Refugees and is the raison d’ etre for the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). The purpose of the UNHCR is to ascertain that the needs of refugees are neither forgotten nor undermined on the priority list of the society.
With protection, refugees have a second chance to live with dignity. This is achieved not only through appropriate legislation and policies, which should be consistent with international and European laws anyway, but also through the positive attitude of the host country’s population. Only through understanding can negative stereotypes and prejudices surrounding the asylum issue be dissolved.
So who are the beneficiaries of international protection? Refugees are people who are faced with the fear of persecution either in wartime or in times of “peace”. Confronted with relentless violence and gross human rights violations in their countries, they have no choice but to escape. Those left behind are either killed or live in constant fear for their lives. After they begin the perilous journey to escape, via land or sea, the challenge for those who manage to reach another country seeking protection is to start a new life free from fear and oppression.
Out of the 16 million refugees worldwide, 2,500 reside among us in Cyprus. The biggest challenge the Cypriot state faces at this time is to promote the effective integration of these people so that they can stand on their own feet. Dealing with refugees resentfully and as a threat cannot be the answer. Instead, if they are given the opportunity to join the new society, not only will they themselves benefit, but so will the host society. Cypriots know what it means to be a refugee and how crucial support is as a factor for their new beginnings.
It is not possible to stake a claim to your own rights while ignoring the rights of others, especially of weaker social groups such as refugees. The welfare and dignity of everybody in a society is interwoven with the welfare of the people living next to us, among us.
April 13th 2010