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Cyprus: ongoing rebellion by detained Asylum Seekers

Nicosia, Cyprus.: A 'historical account' of the asylum seekers struggle in Cyprus that started on the 4th of May 2006 and it still goes on.

No Media coverage has been given outside Cyprus.

Everything started with the uprising in one of Nicosia's -capital of Cyprus- detention centre. People are kept there nearly for two years. During the uprising a/s and police were injured.

The uprising sparked a more generalised protest. However, there was no violence during the demonstrations that followed.

Though, and anti-racist Cypriots have occupied the central square of Nicosia for two weeks now the government has rejected all the claims of the protesters.

Today Kurds have occupied the Red Cross.

The attachment is written by a Cypriot who joined the protests (name and telephone number are included).

The protesters, Cypriots and Migrants, wish for the events to be known outside Cyprus.

If you any recipients of this message require more information please contact Gregory or me.

Kind regards,

Maria Avraamidou

e-mail: mariaavraamidou at

Gregory Ioannou 00357-99380819

Subjectivities in solidarity

Lefkosia, Cyprus Observations and commentary

Thursday 4/05/06
Uprising in detention Cell 10 in the area of the Central Prisons. Matresses are burnt, doors and windows smashed. Riot police suppresses the rebellion. Immigrant prisoners and policemen are injured.

Friday 5/05/06
KISA (an NGO calling itself Action for Equality, Support, Anti-racism) calls a meeting of immigrants from various countries and a decision is taken to march the coming Monday to the presidential palace and submit a protest memorandum to the President of the Republic.

The prisoners (mostly asylum seekers of Iranian origin) revolted in protest for the inhuman detention conditions and their long stay in prison without trial. Their uprising however sparked a more generalised protest about the living conditions of all the asylum seekers in Cyprus.

Monday 8/05/06
March to the Presidential Palace. The President's secretary refuses to accept the protest memorandum, but listens to a briefing by the president of KISA, Doros Polycarpou. Protest ends up in Eleftheria Square as planned and around 200 Kurds (mostly coming from Syria and residing in Paphos) decide to remain there indefinately. A generalised call for money, tents, food and clothes is issued and some Cypriots respond in solidarity. Secret police is watching.

The Syrian Kurds' decision to camp in the capital's central square may have been an act of despair but its immediate consequence was a wave of solidarity by other asylum seekers and anti-racist Cypriots. After an informal, on the spot discussion about the politics of the protest the banner "No human being is illegal" is prepared accompanied by a leaflet in which the specific struggle is placed in a broader global and local context.

Tuesday 9/05/06
Asian asylum seekers (mostly Bangladeshi) arrive in the morning at Eleftheria Square and join the Kurds. Most of them come from Paphos and Limassol.
KISA issues a statement of support, calls for a demonstration in solidarity with the detainees and the protesting asylum seekers and puts forward a set of demands concerning asylum application procedure, police conduct, welfare and housing policy and more generally immigrant integration policy.Afternoon march around Nicosia in heavy police presence. The first steps are taken towards the creation of a collective fund and a collective kitchen.

The arrival of Asian immigrant-asylum seekers and Cypriots in solidarity expands both the scale and the scope of the struggle. It is not merely a struggle for asylum, but really a struggle against institutionalised racism.

Wednesday 10/05/06
March to the Ministry of Interior. Minister states that most asylum seekers are really economic immigrants. In the afternoon four asylum seekers of Syrian Kurdish origin climb up the roof of a big building, wound themselves and threaten to jump if their voices are not heard. After a long stay on the roof, they come down escorted by an UNCHR representative. Through television, the Head of the Cypriot Parliament, Demetris Christofias accepts to see them in his office on the following day.

Although the struggle has already been subsumed within the spectacle, the authorities' definition of asylum eligibility and more broadly legality is clearly being questioned as protesters accuse the government of violation of national law as well as european and international human rights conventions. One banner contests the anti-marxist separation of the economic from the political, alluded by the Minister of Interior, stating boldly that "economic immigrants are political immigrants".

Thursday 11/05/06
March to the Parliament. Christofias promises to forward their demands to the executive authority, expresses his personal sympathy and promises 1000 CYP on behalf of AKEL. Protesters inform him that irrespective of that, they will continue their struggle in Eleftheria Square.

As a response to the appearance of nationalist tendencies among some protesters, expressed in the separation of the Kurdish from the Asian protesters, two banners appear stating "No border, no nation" and "Freedom to the prisoners". Another one reminds the Cypriots that they were themselves refugees some time ago. The message is clear. Join us because "It could have been U".

Friday 12/05/06
March to the Welfare Office. Applications for welfare are not accepted because of the absence of acceptable residence addresses. Massive AKEL concert in Eleftheria Square. Protesters' camp survives without any damages.

Asian immigrants prepare artistic long banners demanding freedom and humanity. Both Kurdish and Asians bring photographs depicting the tortures faced by their compatriots in their countries of origin.

Saturday 13/05/06
March to Nicosia Central Prisons. Prison authorities refuse to accept a delegation of protesters. Protesters chant outside for a few hours and then return to Eleftheria Square. In the evening APOEL (sports club) supporters celebrate the winning of the football cup. The protesters camp is not threatened.

Just in case around 50 Cypriots gather preemptively (some of them with cameras) at Eleftheria Square to guard against potential violence by fascist groupings associated with APOEL club. The immigrant protesters dance in the square this evening as well!

Monday 15/05/06
Arrangements are made for the children to attend lessons in the local primary school. Meeting of protesters' delegation with an UNHCR represenative in the building of KISA. Protesters are informed that the UN conciders the Republic of Cyprus as the competent authority in the subject matter. Meeting of asylum seekers' representatives and Cypriot organisations on KISA's inititiative. Escalation is decided. An agreement is reached by immigrant - asylum seekers' representatives that national symbols were to be avoided so as to prevent the division of the protesters.

As the protest grows in Eleftheria Square the police is unable to contain the protesters on the pavement. This night they are dancing in the middle of the square!

Tuesday 16/05/06
Around 800 asylum seekers march to the Ministry of Labour and Social Insurance. Police is filming and taking photographs of leading individuals. Protesters occupy the entrance of the Ministry until the Minister accepts a delegation. The Minister states that his government does not violate any national or international law and that those eligible for welfare should apply individually according to the established procedure. The president of KISA informs him that from that moment onwards the responsibility for the physical survival of these people lies with his ministry. After pondering for some time the occupation of the ministry, the protesters eventually decide to return to Eleftheria Square.

The situation between the Kurds and the Asians has deteriorated. As some Kurds opened up their flags, some Asians complained and asserted their right to open up their national flags as well. Eventually more moderate Kurds intervened and further tension was avoided. However the stance of some Kurds has been instrumental in the withdrawal of some Asians that same evening.

Wednesday 17/05/06
Delegation takes 170 applications for welfare to the Ministry of Labour and Social Insurance. Heavy rainfall makes the situation unbearable for some families who leave Eleftheria Square. The immense majority of the Kurds remains however and is determined to continue the struggle. The Asians decrease further in numbers. The police arrests two immigrants involved in the mobilisations and more generally makes its presence felt.

The rainfall made apparent the precariousness and temporariness of Eleftheria Square as a sanctuary. Most importantly the absence of clear-cut and effective proposals as to how the struggle ought to be continued, leads to an attempt by some Cypriots to investigate more thoroughly how the immigrants themselves view the situation. This initiative is welcomed, it sparks long discussions in general assemblies with women participation, but no concrete proposals. Cypriots wait for the immigrants to tell them what to do, and immigrants expect the Cypriots to tell them how to proceed.

Thursday 18/05/06
The government announces officially and finally the rejection of all of the protesters' demands.

The Kurds decide to continue, and state their preference to do it alone. The Asians withdraw but repeat their readiness to return if a mobilisation is called.

Friday 19/05/06
The Kurds march to the Red Cross building, enter inside and occupy it. No violence at all. The protesters are planning to stay there for the time being.