With a bogo in their head with the few things they brought from the distant Congo, they wander outside the Pournara First Reception Center waiting their turn. In the mud from the last rain, with the slippers as they left their country. Youthful faces, who came for a better tomorrow. Which may never come, since they started somewhere else and ended up somewhere else.
Flows from African countries have drowned Pournara in the last year, bringing living conditions to the brink of misery. Authorities are struggling to make ends meet, but no effort is ever enough. The tents are the last resort, with the officials of the Asylum Service and other services fighting for survival. Because a lot is heard about Pournara, we asked for the positions of the coordinator for the Asylum Service Center of Lora Iakovidou, who lives close to the living conditions of thousands of people every day and experiences the difficulties of the officials who try to keep balance.
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Today, the Pournara First Reception Center operates above its borders and accommodates people who come to Cyprus illegally and cross into the free areas through the Green Line. The Center currently has 2053 people living and every day these numbers are increasing. The first nationality of asylum seekers for this year in the Center is the Congo, after 516 applications were submitted, followed by people from Nigeria with 398 applications and Somalia with 227 applications. Syria, formerly the first country of arrival, is now fourth. Asked where the flows from the Congo are attributed, Ms. Iakovidou cites what they say: that they come to the occupied territories as students. "But what we have found is that they have easy access to Turkey with a visa. They leave their country for Istanbul, come to the occupied territories and from there they find traffickers who show them the places to cross to the free areas. "Many do not know that they are coming to Cyprus but believe that they are in Greece or Italy."
The official of the Asylum Service, notes that as soon as a person comes to the Center then he enters a 14-day quarantine and then enters the main Center if there is space. He is being medically examined, interviewed by the Police for security and illegal immigration issues, informed about the asylum procedures, his fingerprints are taken and examined whether he is a vulnerable person, while now those who wish can be vaccinated. Also, if it is an unaccompanied minor, then there are three officials of the Welfare Office who act as guardians. At the same time we have institutional officials from the Welfare Department. If the asylum application is submitted, then if this person has an address that he wants to stay because he has a relative, then he leaves the Center.
In case there are vulnerable people, Gr. Evimerias takes care of their housing until they can rent. The Welfare Office is responsible for unaccompanied children. In case there is no space for these people to stay, they stay in the Center. The procedures must be completed within a month, except for those who have a disease and can not leave the Center. Regarding the 12 children who were found stacked in a container, Ms. Iakovidou was honest, stating that indeed due to overcrowding these children are together until other solutions are found. "But it is better to be isolated from the adults, in an area where there is guarding and they are supervised by the Welfare Office. "Unaccompanied children are our priority," he said.
There are currently 292 unaccompanied children in the Center, most of them from African countries. The truth is that not all of them are babies, but people 16-17 and over. A 16-year-old is a child, says the official of the Asylum Service, but he enters the process of leaving his home for a European country, with his family selling many of his belongings in order to make the trip for a better tomorrow. There are those who are persecuted by their countries for this and the examination of applications is done for each one separately. All asylum seekers are subjected to an individualized examination to identify persons persecuted in their home countries. In our experience, people who come from sub-Saharan countries come for a better future and not because they are persecuted. The fear of the authorities now is that with the fall of the Turkish pound, the flows from the occupied territories will increase.
We ask what an ordinary day at the Center is like. First of all, says Ms. Iakovidou, there are about 100 people outside, waiting to make their pre-registration. Inside the Center there are queues for their examinations, queues for their fingerprints and at the same time the officials have to see the sick people to be transported to the hospitals. We have two doctors for over two thousand people. The staff is in eternal stress. Ms. Iakovidou considers it reasonable for the guests to constantly complain, since they are closed in a place without much to do, without amenities. There are people, he adds, who come in their summer clothes and now do not have to wear anything for the winter. Fortunately, there are volunteers outside the Center who help, as well as the Red Cross, which provides the first admission package with basic necessities. In addition to these problems, episodes break out among the residents. "We are constantly working at full speed and due to overpopulation, we can not separate nationalities. We have recently had incidents between Congolese people with Nigerians or Nigerians with Cameroonians.
How difficult is it to manage a Center built for 800 people and accommodating 2.500? Nobody predicted that we would reach such numbers today, says Ms. Iakovidou. The procedures work. Our malfunction concerns the management of the Center, to be constantly vigilant for quarrels, for the provision of humanitarian aid. While there are many toilets and showers, they are never enough as the population grows. What the competent services are now finding is that we have numbers that no longer belong to the refugee sector, but come from countries that are also "difficult" to make return flights.
The Center is being expanded for security reasons
What is the next day for the Center? Ms. Iakovidou states that there are plans for the creation of a new separate area next to Pournara in which the procedures will be done even faster. The new entrants will be checked and the refugees will be filtered even more. This will help in the faster separation of individuals and in the more effective control of security issues. The Aliens and Immigration Service will be more active in this area. "Also, the Ministry of Interior has made some plans regarding the improvement of the living conditions of the immigrants. Because we started differently and we go differently. "Things look difficult," he said.
Reports on prostitution and drugs
Much is heard about prostitution and drugs even within the Center. But how much do they correspond to reality? The Asylum Service officer states that you do not see anything during the day. Of course at night with such a population things definitely become dangerous. There are cars moving around the Center and that is why the Police are carrying out intensive patrols.
Now for what is heard about a specific street outside the Center where prostitution takes place, it may apply to people before entering the Center. Those who enter Pournara have a warning from the Police about all these things. In the Center, he adds, we did not find any drugs, because there is also the Police here. In quarantine it is the most dangerous because the premises are in contact with the road and one could throw something from outside. That is why the lighting will be increased so that we have more control.
Regarding the reports of rape, she says that in case there is a complaint, then the investigation is done by the Police and we urge minors if something happens to report it. But surely with such numbers we must have our eyes and ears open.