Two communities have stepped up to the plate to signal their readiness to welcome refugee unaccompanied minors following recent protests in Zygi, but state officials insist on original location due to approved funding from the EU.
The local leader at Vasa Kellakiou and the mayor of Yermasoyia, both areas located in Limassol district, say their communities would welcome refugee children in sharp contrast with Zygi, Larnaca district, where local residents objected to plans to establish a refugee centre for unaccompanied minors in their community.
On Tuesday, several dozens of people gathered outside an abandoned army camp in Zygi, following a heated exchange between an initial group of protesters and civil servants from the Public Works department who went for an on-site inspection.
Zygi community leader Georgia Michail said the government kept her constituents in the dark over plans to refurbish the abandoned army camp and turn it into a facility that would house unaccompanied minors.
Local residents along with community council members who had the support of ELAM party, known for its tough stance on migration, were accused of being racists and xenophobes over statements they had made and their refusal to give consent to the project.
Michail quickly denied accusations that she was a racist and pointed to the small size of her community as the reason why Zygi did not want the facility.
“It would be a big mistake to integrate 100 unaccompanied children, aged from 13 until 18, into a small community of 500 residents, such as Zygi, as this would cause many problems,” MIchail said.
But even smaller communities, such as Vasa Kellakiou with just a fraction of Zygi’s population, have signaled to authorities they would be willing to host the children. Vasa Kellakiou leader Yiorgos Pandeli said there are a couple of abandoned army camps in the area just outside his village where children could stay.
“We are talking about unaccompanied children who have nowhere else to go. We owe it to them to offer them our love and a place to grow properly,” Pandeli said.
Kyriacos Ksidias, the mayor of Yermasoyia, was the first public official to offer his community as an alternative to Zygi.
But the government turned him down citing funding issues. As it turned out, Zygi had already been part of an approved programme where European funds over €1 million would be used for the project and the location, according to government officials, could not be changed if the funds were to remain available.
It is not clear whether the Yermasoyia offer is on the table, as Knews understands the local council there has moved on with plans for a municipal multipurpose centre.
But Ksidias told the press that he would be ready to discuss the issue again if the government were serious about moving the proposed facility to his community.