Human rights group KISA is pointing to institutional racism over the recent arrest of an asylum-seeker and single mother on theft charges, calling for an investigation into how state authorities treat refugees by passing the buck on people who are vulnerable members of society.
The story made headlines last week, when a 29-year-old woman was arrested in connection with the theft of ham and pasta from a residence in rural Nicosia.
A judge ordered the woman be remanded into custody for two days, while police investigations were to go on a search for the stolen items to present to court as evidence.
KISA alleges that Social Services 'colluded' with other authorities in the woman’s detention, separating mother from child against their mission
But the suspect was also separated from her 5-year-old child during the process, when it was placed into state child protective services, with the judge ruling the mother would maintain visitation rights.
She was later released from custody, following a public outcry which also caught the attention of Leda Koursouomba, the Children’s Rights Commissioner.
KISA praised the release from detention but issued a statement offering harsh criticism of state authorities, including immigration officers and police, linking “institutional racism” with practices the group described as “unequal and discriminatory treatment” and a “punitive attitude” by state authorities towards migrants and refugees.
The woman came to Cyprus more than 5 years ago on a valid work permit, according to KISA, after leaving her country of origin on fear of persecution. A statement by the group made reference to the woman’s pregnancy and her facing honour killing threats, a practice in certain cultures where a relative would kill a woman who is perceived to have brought dishonour on the family.
Fired for being pregnant
She worked for two months but her employer sacked her after learning she was pregnant, according to KISA, while the woman was unaware that her dismissal from employment had been made on an illegal basis.
KISA says the employer reported the woman back to Immigration authorities.
“Her employer went even further and reported her to the police Aliens and Immigration Unit, which as usual obliged and proceeded to her arrest for deportation purposes,” the statement said.
The woman, who was pregnant and being held at the Menoyia Detention Facility, filed for asylum fearing for her life back in her home country.
Authorities released the woman from detention but without any support or resources all these years and no information about her legal rights.
KISA says it was only last year that they became aware of the woman’s trials and tribulations, pointing out authorities had not done a proper assessment of her situation as per the Refugee Law.
The group managed to help the single mother receive coupons worth €225 according to aid given in typical reception conditions that run up to a few months, with the amount covering €100 for rent and €95 for bills and incidentals.
Unable to work full time
In January 2018, Social Welfare Services withdrew the support citing her refusal to work at a flower shop as per the instructions they had given her.
KISA says the woman was willing to work part time but the work they had found for her had an all-day requirement, and as a result she wouldn’t be able to pick up her child from school.
When she told the Labour Department that she couldn’t reconcile all-day employment with having to care for her young child after school, officials refused to register the woman and suggested she filled a new case with Social Services as a person in a vulnerable group in order to receive support without work requirements.
KISA says Social Services dropped the ball
But social services refused to register the woman as a “member of a vulnerable group” with KISA pointing out that she failed to obtain a birth certificate for her child.
It is noted that her child does not have a birth certificate because she could not pay the fine imposed by the District Administration Office when births are not registered on time,” KISA said.
KISA further alleges that Social Services “colluded” with other authorities in the woman’s detention, thus separating her from her child, while pointing out this contravened their mission.
The human rights advocate is also calling on the state to terminate policies, practices and actions that lead to targeting migrants and refugees. It also calls for measures against institutional discrimination and racism.
KISA is also calling on the police to conduct an investigation into the theft complaint and possible motives.