It is true that if you come to Cyprus as an asylum seeker, the state will pay for somewhere for you to live. But this is the terrible reality of that support.
When you first arrive in Cyprus and seek asylum, you will be sent to the hellish Pournara refugee camp and forced to live in appalling conditions until you can give the authorities an address where you will be able to stay. Many do not have that option.
Let’s say you have an understanding friend or manage to get a place at a hostel, it will be too crowded or busy to stay there long. You will have to rent somewhere from a private landlord. The rent paid by Welfare is so low that slum landlords are filling the gap and exploiting desperate people.
This is the totally typical story of one of our members – let’s call him Simon – who wants to stay anonymous for perfectly rational but heartbreaking reasons.
A private landlord has converted a derelict Nicosia shop from one room into 4 rooms for 17 people by installing stud walls.
The conditions are shocking but Simon chose to stay there because it is close to the bus station and that will increase his chances of getting and keeping a poorly paid job (asylum seekers are legally restricted to menial and poorly paid jobs).
There is no fridge in the one kitchen for those 17 people so food cannot be stored. It has just one gas ring and everyone has to use their own gas canister. There are two toilets and one shower.
Simon is sharing his room with 3 other men. That room has no window and no ventilation. And there is no lock on the door. Night time temperatures in the summer are regularly 25-28 degrees Celsius so they often sleep on the roof of the building.
Each of them had to pay 150 euro deposit to the landlord, which is not covered by welfare, and which he is unlikely to see back.
Originally, it was rent free for Simon because Welfare was paying the landlord 100 euros per person. When Welfare became aware that unscrupulous landlords were taking the money for overcrowded rooms, it reduced what it would pay to 73 euros per person.
The landlord then made the asylum seekers pay the additional 27 euros which they do by using the small amount of money given to them for food. So they do not have enough to eat.
They also have to pay for their electricity and water – an extra 20 euros each a month- which is far in excess of what they actually use. And the landlord sometimes does not pay the water and electricity companies so they suffer outages. And if someone in the building does not pay the landlord, they cut off the electricity.
It is a daily indignity and outrage that Simon and his friends should not have to endure.
Welfare is aware of the practice but their policy of reducing rent payments is just making life harder for the asylum seekers. The press is also aware and has investigated.
And here’s the tragic part: when asked by the media and by Welfare how his accommodation is, he says it is ok because he doesn’t want to be evicted and find himself homeless or sent back to the refugee camp.
No-one becomes an asylum seeker for the benefits.