Immigrants on their own as support group scales back help

By Argyro Nicolaou
Published on September 10, 2011
The Cyprus Mail

KISA, the immigrant support group, has had to massively scale down its operations because it has run out of cash, its director said yesterday.

The organisation which helps two to three thousand people a year, offering free services and information to asylum seekers and migrants, has announced it will now only be able to deal with absolute emergencies. 

“We have lost all of our permanent staff, and we rely solely on volunteers now,” KISA director Doros Polycarpou said. “For this reason, we are forced to scale down our operations, and we will only handle cases that are extremely serious and extremely urgent.” 

A notice on the now-closed KISA premises in old Nicosia put it more bluntly. From now on, help will only be available for emergencies such as “cases of detention for the purpose of deportation and cases of violence”. 

With 200,000 non-Cypriots living and working in Cyprus and no proper state infrastructure geared towards informing and supporting them, the demand for KISA’s services had been constantly increasing since it was established in 1998. This forced the organisation to hire more staff, a situation that has now become financially unviable. 

KISA receives 15,000 euros a year from a social support programme funded by the Department of Social Work, an amount that, according to Polycarpou, is not even enough to settle the rent for KISA’s headquarters.  

KISA member, Nicoletta Michaelidou, said that the organisation was planning to embark on an island-wide campaign with the hope of securing donations that will help KISA financially. She also said that KISA would seek support from other institutions that work against racism and would continue to target European Union programmes in collaboration with NGOs from other countries. As part of their financial restructuring programme, KISA is also considering different ways of using its ground floor space on Arsenoes Street to raise money.  

The biggest financial blow for the organisation came in 2007, when KISA signed a contract with the Asylum Office to secure funding from the European Refugee Fund under a project aiming at providing asylum seekers with legal advice and social support. 

“When the time came for the government to pay us the money back, they backed out claiming that we had not followed the project’s guidelines and that the actions we took were inadequate,” said Michaelidou. The government’s refusal left KISA with a debt of approximately 80,000 euros, despite requests from the ombudswoman to pay KISA the money.

Michaelidou accused the government of trying to shut KISA down. “But NGOs from all over Europe are showing great solidarity towards KISA,” she said.

A meeting is being organised later this month by European NGOs in Brussels, who will meet to discuss KISA’s plight, she said. 

A source from the Interior Ministry said that the government was not institutionally obliged to fund non-governmental organisations, but that it had supported KISA on different occasions with many of their projects. The source also said the ministry has always involved KISA in decision-making committees, such as the committee on asylum seekers and that on human trafficking. 

While accepting that the state has no institutional obligation per se to help KISA financially, Polycarpou said that under a European council report of 2007, which the Republic of Cyprus agreed to and signed, the government committed to finance institutions that help migrant minority groups living in the country. 

“The government must decide. Do they want the migrants and asylum seekers to remain unsupported, with nowhere to go for help and no one to inform them on their rights? Or do they want these migrants to go seek help from lawyers, which rip them off?” Polykarpou asked. 

He stressed that no other European state dealt with the matter of migrants and asylum seekers as carelessly as Cyprus does. 

“If the government lets KISA close down, then it basically leaves migrant workers completely unsupported,” Polycarpou added.