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asylum seekers, children, refugees

No child left behind…except the children of war

A deeply touching photograph of a little girl went around the world a few days ago. A little girl in a Syrian refugee camp who has her arms stretched up in the air, surrendering to the camera which she had mistaken for a gun. We have all heard a lot about the drama of Syrian refugees, but what was so shocking about this photo was that her big round eyes looked directly at us, demanding we do not look away. Given the chance, most of us would have done anything possible to take her away from that situation. But the story is much closer to us than we realize. Cyprus has been receiving Syrian refugees in modest numbers and amongst them there are cases of fathers or mothers who had to flee the war, unable to take their children with them, hoping to be reunited with them once they reached a safe heaven. VIRAL PHOTO However due to a recent change in the refugee legislation last April, the Republic of Cyprus has made it impossible for refugees from Syria to be reunited with their children. Cyprus has enforced a division between the two statuses granted to refugees, namely the ‘’refugee status’’ and ‘’subsidiary status’’, by removing the right to family reunification from persons granted subsidiary protection, which is a status grant to the vast majority of Syrian refugees. The representative of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) had expressed serious concerns over the changes in the legislation as they curtailed essential rights of forcibly displaced people who have sought sanctuary in Cyprus, and were granted subsidiary protection instead of a refugee status, thus taking away their right to be reunified with their family members. UNHCR stated that the amendments do not take into account the difficult and complicated situation that refugees find themselves in. Future Worlds Center’s Humanitarian Affairs Unit had also expressed concerns on these amendments, considering them as changes not respectful to fundamental rights. One such case is H, who applied for asylum with his wife and one of his two underage children, and was recently granted subsidiary protection. At the time they fled their home which was in an area that was heavily bombed, their house collapsed and they presumed their 7 year old daughter dead. In Cyprus they were notified that their daughter had survived and was taken in by neighbors. The little girl is currently living in miserable conditions in a stable together with seven persons, is in a bad psychological condition due to the traumatic experience of family separation and her parents are desperate to bring her to Cyprus. Due to the restriction in the law, her parents do not have a right to bring her to Cyprus, however they have a made a plea to the authorities based on humanitarian reasons to allow her to come to Cyprus to be reunited with her family. This is only one of several cases that are in the hands of the Cypriot authorities. The girl in the photo will remain in our minds for a long time. But we do not need to look outside of our island to be moved by tragic tales of displaced children of war. Coming from a society of a long refugee history, we cannot but be moved not only for the child in the photo but more importantly for the ones that we can actually do something about. Cyprus has several lives of such children in its hands; it’s just that their photo has not yet been taken. Humanitarian Affairs Unit – Future Worlds Center boysinarefugeecampin002

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