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Cyprus: Social Welfare Services in the Role of Suppressor.
Date: 17/05/2010 - 10:30
MIGRANT SUPPORT group KISA yesterday lashed out at Social Welfare Services’ staff over their alleged role in the arrest of people who approach them for help.
In one instance, a case worker is using a woman’s newborn baby to blackmail her into leaving the country, KISA said, adding that the woman has been prevented from accessing the child unless she agrees to leave.
KISA cited three separate cases where a simple visit to Welfare – without incident or warning – ended in arrest. It said the department seemed to be rejecting its legal duty of care, rather choosing to willingly aid immigration police.
“They are clearly violating their code of conduct,” said KISA head Doros Polycarpou. “There is a law concerning the actions they are and are not allowed to take and which specifically prevents them from handing over confidential and incriminating information to the authorities.”
Polycarpou said KISA has also contacted the Welfare Services’ disciplinary committee to investigate the alleged unethical conduct.
One of the three cited cases relates to a Filipino housemaid who was called by her case worker to pass by the Limassol Welfare Office. Upon her arrival, she was immediately arrested by immigration police. The woman had recently given birth and had consented to give her baby up for adoption because her employer had threatened to fire her if she kept her child.
However the woman and her Iranian husband then informed Welfare that they wanted to keep their baby, which was being cared for at Nicosia’s Makarios Hospital as it was premature.
The child is still there, even though it should have been released three months ago. According to KISA, the woman’s case worker has allegedly refused to hand over the baby, saying the baby won’t be handed over unless the woman returns to her home country.
The woman was eventually arrested at the Limassol Welfare Office because her employer had refused to renew her contract. Her arrest came despite the fact that she had been working legally in Cyprus for nine years and was entitled to become a naturalised Cypriot.
“She had no idea of her rights,” Polycarpou said. “She had been in the country legally for nine years and had the right to apply for permanent residency.
“Instead of simply informing her of her right to find another employer, Welfare knowingly allowed her legal status to lapse and called the police to deport her.”
Polycarpou said this was not the first time where, through acts of omission, Welfare let migrant with the legal right to stay, slip into illegality.
“Migrant workers have no idea of their rights. It’s only the ones who approach us who become aware and for many of them, it’s too late anyway. For immigration officers, even one day is enough for deportation.”
When Polycarpou called Welfare they said they were not responsible for the deportation but only for the child. “What about the rights of the child to be with its mother?“ he said. “With one simple letter to immigration, they could have filed for a temporary residency permit so she could be with her baby but they didn’t.”
KISA has written to Child Commissioner Leda Koursoumba to appeal for the right of the baby to be with its mother.
In another case, a female asylum seeker suffering from HIV visited the Nicosia Welfare Office looking for a case worker. Her caseworker allegedly called the police, informing them that the woman’s asylum application had been rejected. According to KISA, the woman’s application had only just been processed and her rejection letter, informing her she had 75 days to either appeal or leave, had not yet been sent. The woman was only verbally informed of the rejection while she was being arrested.
“In this case we managed to stop the detention,” Polycarpou said.
A third case concerns a human trafficking victim who had been officially recognised as a victim by the police and had been called up as a witness in the three-year trial, she never received a residency permit.
Throughout the duration, and even after the trial ended, the woman was allegedly never informed by authorities of her right to apply for compensation from her traffickers, nor had she ever received any help to re-enter society, as is required by the relevant laws.
Instead Welfare cut her benefits and allegedly instructed immigration police to fast-track her repatriation, saying “she must leave Cyprus”. The victim has two small children and remains without any help from Welfare, despite the fact that she has applied to the Limassol Family Court for legal recognition of paternity for her children who is a Cypriot.
Source: Cyprus Mail
Publishing date: 14 May 2010
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