Initiatives for the self-representation of refugees in Cyprus: Which challenges do refugee-led organizations face?

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Initiatives for the self-representation of refugees in Cyprus: Which challenges do refugee-led organizations face?

Recognizing the potential, value and importance of refugee-led community organizations, the Cyprus Refugee Council conducted research on the presence of such organizations in Cyprus. Individuals from different refugee communities, refugee-led organizations, international and non-governmental organizations and governmental actors all took part in the research, conducted within the framework of the Training Kit for Empowering Refugee-Led Community Organisations project, funded by the European Union under the Erasmus+ programme

Refugee-led organizations can greatly contribute to the integration of their communities, as they face the same struggles and share the same culture and language with their members. 

This is beneficial not only for refugees but also for the host society and all the actors involved in the efforts to make the integration process less strenuous.

The research identified that there are very few refugee-led groups in Cyprus, and those that exist, have limited presence. There are multiple factors explaining why it is so.

Persons with refugee background, in particular asylum seekers, have difficulties securing their basic needs. They receive very limited (and often delayed) financial support, have limited access to the labour market, are dependent on social benefits and struggle to find accommodation. That, together with delays in the asylum procedure as well as insecurity about the future, contributes to the feeling of instability. Refugees are also often faced with racism and prejudices due to religion or gender.

Living in an environment which can be unwelcoming and fighting a daily struggle to survive and feel safe is not only very stressful, adding to psychological burdens already carried by many refugees, but it also impedes their motivation and deprives them of the means to do something for their communities.

Even if one finds the motivation and energy to help his/her community, there are other barriers, making the process of creating an organization quite a challenge. All official information on the registration of an association is accessible only in the Greek language, and the procedure of registering an association is considered to be quite complex and not easy. Moreover, there are currently no funding opportunities for groups that are not legal entities, while financial resources are needed in order to register and sustain an association.

Additionally, some are afraid that official involvement in the refugee-led organization will negatively affect their refugee status and the benefits they receive from the government. Also, some of the groups struggle with the commitment of their members.

It is important to mention that the vast majority of these factors come down to one thing – an inadequate integration framework in Cyprus, which directly or indirectly contributes to other challenges.

The National Plan for the Integration of Migrants which is currently under development could and should pay particular attention to enabling self-representation of refugees or migrants.

Already existing refugee-led community organizations in Cyprus, besides challenges they face, are very dedicated to their work. They also expressed interest in receiving assistance and training, in order to improve their services. This willingness to grow will be addressed in the later stages of the project, when the Training Kit for Empowering Refugee-Led Community Organisations will be developed.

This article is based on the National Report on the status of refugee-led community organisations in Cyprus. Read the report here.