Refugee Rights Association speaks on racism and xenophobia against Africans in northern Cyprus

The Project Coordinator of Refugee Rights Association, “Better Together,” Atty. Deniz Altıok has emphasized that there has been an incredible increase in racism and xenophobia in the northern part of Cyprus.

Noting that the person who sees the violence in the society reacts according to who he is, and those who are "not among us" are treated cruelly, Altıok said, "The scale of racism in the north of Cyprus is very wide."

Stating that they will not give up on the issue of university student, William A. Peter, who was attacked by a group in Lefkosa recently, Atty. Altiok pointed out that a new video about a woman of African descent who was beaten by her landlord was in his hands, and that racism is now practiced "without hiding".

Noting that people who come to the north of Cyprus and cannot reach even their most basic rights such as education, health and shelter, Atty. Deniz Altıok said, "I'm not saying it's all because of us, of course, there may be those who have bad intentions, as can be from any nation... It is the rulers who should regulate and supervise this..."

"There is a very depressing picture," said Av. Altıok said, “If there is a crime, it is not acceptable to attribute it to a race or even a continent. While it is necessary to focus on crime and how it can be prevented, practice is the opposite... Nothing is done about crime, but there is constant stigma, racism and hate speech.” she said.

Question: An African-born student in Lefkosia was beaten by a group, mostly under the age of 18, recently after a taxi driver was hit by a car. We heard about the experiences of foreign students, it was also reflected in the researches, but this event made the situation more visible, both racism and increasing violence… How do you evaluate this event?

Av.Altıok: We came across this violence with an Instagram post. Since we couldn't see the news anywhere, I called VOIS Cyprus, the union of foreign students. I got detailed information from them. In fact, I learned that the young man who was attacked had just come out of the hospital and was waiting in line at the police to give his statement, and that he was not taken very seriously. Since I have been working in the field for many years, I asked my police friends, whom I know very well, to take care of it.

An African-origin student who was attacked, on the other hand, most of the perpetrators are younger than 18 years old... These are minors, children driven to crime... This situation reminds us of what we have observed in the field, especially in the north of Cyprus, as it has been all over the world since the beginning of the pandemic. once again showed the increase in racism and xenophobia. As we work very closely with VOIS Cyprus, we hear a lot about such incidents through them. We got another new video last week, an African woman being beaten by her landlord, a tenant. We used to hear about such events, and now we are starting to see them. Racism is done without hiding it. We will not give up on the subject of the attacked foreign university student William A. Peter. We expect the authorities to do what needs to be done regarding the incident as soon as possible,

Question: Foreign students who are in trouble do not have a door to knock on except the police. Recently, student unions have begun to be formed. As MHD, what kind of cooperation do you have with the troops?

Altıok: As foreign students could not get support from the authorities, they started to unite with those from their own countries and watch their back. This is a very good thing, they are trying to make their voices heard. They have difficulty in making their voices heard because they cannot reach the local people very much. We, as an association, are trying to support them, we are trying to ensure that their voices are heard through us. They have a lot of trouble.

We also have Cameroonian and Nigerian refugees, as it is known, these are countries with conflicts. Many non-refugees, as well as many people living in the north of Cyprus, knock on the door of the association, and we provide guidance.

Question: From time to time, it is reported in the press that a large number of people of African descent are found dead, killed or killed.

Altıok: Deaths have increased a lot, and according to what we learned from the victims of human trafficking, the number of women forced into slavery is also increasing. These women started reaching out to us. In this regard, we were able to touch the lives of those who contacted us on 0542 8620060, the Human Rights Platform's Hotline.

Question: What do you encounter as MHD?

Six arrows:  What we see in our work with refugees and victims of trafficking is an incredible increase in racism and xenophobia. Currently, we have approximately 150 refugees in the north of Cyprus. There are also victims of human trafficking that we support. All of these people have difficulties in housing, employment and are exposed to racism every day. They face racism because of their race, country of origin, religion and language. For example, when we start looking for a job for a refugee, the employer may show an approach such as "if he is black, I will employ him as a dishwasher, but in front of him, for example, as a waiter". The employer can easily tell us this, thinking that it is very normal. How a person who could tell me this when I called as a legal consultant, an employee of the association expressed this to the subject, I don't even want to think about what you're doing. We experience similar things with regard to housing, the owners of the house can say, "I won't give up my house if it's Syrian" or "I don't want it if it's black". Not even the word "black" is used, they use a much scarier word. On top of all this, we now have too many cases of violence and harassment. All the doors we knocked on seemed to be shut in our faces... The Ministry of Interior, Ministry of Labor, Social Services Department and municipalities need to take more responsibility.

Despite the violence in our eyes in the last incident, I read so many hateful comments that I was astounded. I couldn't watch all of those videos, my hands and feet trembled. But when I watch the videos, I hear speeches and comments such as "they should disappear from our country", "they are always guilty", "where was the association when they were harassed and raped". This sounds chilling to me, it's just so cruel...

There is a situation of reacting according to who sees the violence in the society, we act incredibly cruel to those who are "not one of us". At the beginning of the pandemic, the first cases were German citizens, at that time German hatred broke out. In fact, the scale of racism in the north of Cyprus is very wide. We always have racism and xenophobia, but it changes shape depending on the situation and the conjuncture. For example, there was the Ukraine-Russia war, there were statements such as "Our door is open to our Ukrainian brothers", on the other hand, we said "Let's not come to the Syrians, let's send them to their homes", and we are constantly stigmatizing "all blacks commit crimes".

Question: We also know that criminal organizations came here because of the political status of the northern part of Cyprus. Some of those who do illegal work and remain indifferent in the country are of African origin, but this does not mean that all of them are. Among those of African descent, there are both victims and perpetrators. Where are those responsible for controlling and regulating this?

Altıok: There is a very depressing picture. If there is a crime, it is not acceptable to attribute it to a race or even a continent. While it is necessary to focus on crime and how it can be prevented, practice is the opposite. Nothing is done about crime, but there is constant stigma, racism and hate speech. We push people who cannot reach us to commit crimes. I am not saying that it is all because of us, of course, there may be those who have bad intentions, as well as from any nation.

Question: Are any efforts made to ensure that people from different cultures can live together?

Altıok: Unfortunately no, the managers do not have such a work. In MHD, we have the project “Strengthening Asylum in Cyprus” financed by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, the integration leg is one of the most important legs of this project. In the integration part, there is only one Social Counselor who deals with the refugees living here in their access to shelter, employment, education, health and/or their access, and as you can guess, he has a lot of work to do due to the conditions of our country.

In fact, we act as if these people do not exist here, both as administrators and as a society. We are blindfolded, as if there are no refugees or asylum seekers coming to us, as if there are no refugees living here. As such, we are unable to access education, health, housing, or employment rights. While this should be the responsibility of the government, we have only one employee in the field, he is running to the needs of all refugees in the north of Cyprus. Refugee rights are systematically violated because there is no effective asylum mechanism working in the northern part of Cyprus. As MHD, we have been preparing and submitting amendments to the Aliens and Immigration Law for years, but these cannot be enacted because governments are constantly changing. Meanwhile, the arrival of refugees continues, the number of victims of human trafficking is increasing day by day. Racism is taking over. A handful of people at MHD deal with these issues. We are constantly eroding the doors of the ministry. We had contacts with the ministries in the past, and there were also issues that they helped. However, for the last 3-4 weeks, we have been asking the Minister of Internal Affairs to be seen, but our attempts have still not yielded results. We request a meeting from the Minister of Labor, but we can get an appointment after weeks of calls.

Question: What are you doing against racism and xenophobia?

Altıok: One of the most important pillars of our EU funded “Better Together” project is the establishment of an anti-racist network. There will be representatives from other non-governmental organizations and student unions in this network. This network will be a starting point for how we can work together against racism and xenophobia. At the end of the day, we also aim to achieve some permanent changes. The project is actually a project that aims to raise awareness, organize trainings, maintain and fund the anti-racist network and create a volunteer network on three thematic areas, “refugees”, “human trafficking” and “racism”. Because there is a lot of work to be done. Projects are very important in order not to have to cut support from the people we support.

We also plan trainings for the media because some of them have problems with their language. For example, neither the name nor the origin of the person who was attacked in the center of Nicosia was written. If a similar incident had happened to a Turkish Cypriot, the news would have been different. After this incident, we had a disappointment with the media. When the perpetrator is of African descent, it makes the headlines, all the details are given. But when the victim is of African origin, news is written that "one person was attacked". Foreign students coming to the north of Cyprus due to racism and xenophobia are violating their most basic human right, the right to live in safety.

Source: Yeniduzen

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