Since mid-March, the Cypriot government has been introducing increasingly stringent controls to suppress the transmission of the Covid-19 virus. Our Dignity Centre – a critical lifeline to over 250 asylum seekers and refugees in Cyprus – has had to close and we are now distributing food directly to the most vulnerable asylum seekers who have no means of buying food.
On 12 March, we had to make a few changes but continued as normal. On 16 March, we closed the Dignity Centre for all training, educational and cultural activities but remained open for essential hygiene services (showers, handwashing and laundry) with some strict controls. Many refugees and asylum seekers do not have access to any hygiene services and this service helped to maintain some dignity.
On 20 March, all our volunteers returned home and on 23 March we also had to close the Dignity Centre hygiene services in order to comply with a nationwide shutdown of businesses and services. There is now a night time curfew and people can only leave their homes if they get permission via text message.
Our Dignity Centre facebook page is now an essential source of reliable information because dangerous rumours are circulating. But we need to do more.
Unfortunately, ‘home’ for refugees and asylum seekers has a different meaning. For our members, the Dignity Centre is as much home as where they sleep. The isolation measures are a burden for everyone but many refugees and asylum seekers are living in cramped, unsuitable or temporary accommodation. Most also lack the community ties to help cope with any shortages. Life has suddenly got a lot harder for them.
Given these extra hardships, we want to find a way to help all of them but our priority now is the asylum seekers and refugees who have no means of buying food for themselves and who will starve without support.
Working with our good friends and colleagues at Caritas, the Cyprus Refugee Council and the local UNHCR we have identified 60 of the most vulnerable asylum seekers.
We have two fantastic Refugee Support aid workers – Paula and Laura – who have remained in Cyprus and are leading this new project.
They are are bulk buying essential supplies, putting together the food packs in a highly controlled sanitary environment and are now delivering to the homes where the vulnerable people are isolated.
On 30 March, we started distributing weekly food packs to 60 individuals each costing 13 euros:
- If they have a kitchen: Tuna, Tinned chicken, White beans, Baked beans, Tomato paste/chunks, Sweetcorn, Rice, Pasta, Maggie, Milk
- If they have no kitchen: Water, Bread rusks, Jam, Tuna, Tinned chicken, Baked beans, Sweetcorn, Canned soup, Milk, Cup noodles
From next week we will also be adding masks that have been designed and manufactured by our Master Tailor Ba together with some hygiene items.
We anticipate that number rising as more vulnerable people come to our attention and need support.
We have committed to doing this for as long as the lock down lasts.