SOS Children’s Villages Northern Cyprus has helped hundreds of refugees over the past year in the only project of its kind to assist asylum-seekers integrate and become independent in the region.
“Refugees in Northern Cyprus often face challenges in getting work permits or decent jobs,” says Refika Ince, National Director of SOS Children’s Villages Northern Cyprus. “Furthermore, there is a lack of social assistance or welfare schemes for the unemployed. Families often struggle upon arrival.”
“In many cases, women do not have a professional skill set because they have not previously worked outside the home in their country of origin,” she adds.
SOS Children’s Villages, working in partnership with the UN refugee agency (UNHCR), has helped support the integration of refugees into the Northern Cyprus community. Since the programme began in January 2017, it has assisted 300 people and currently works with more than 70 refugees, most of whom are Syrians.
An estimated 1,100 of the 171,000 refugees crossing the Mediterranean to Europe arrived on the island of Cyprus in 2017, according to UNHCR.
“As this is the first year, we are taking things slowly and focusing on learning and understanding,” Ms Ince says of the programme.
Individualised help for refugee children, families
As part of the SOS Children’s Villages project, a social worker meets with refugee families to assess their needs and develops a plan to assist them. The plan may include emotional support, job consultation, educational assistance, or guidance in asylum applications.
The project team recently organised a social event for programme participants to give them a chance to meet people as well as to increase awareness about children’s education. The event was designed to explain the region’s primary schools, parent-teacher associations and the right to education.
By listening to the needs of children and families, the project can address the challenges faced by refugees. For example, an SOS Children’s Villages social worker helped one child with physical disabilities transfer from special education to a regular primary school. The child has made many new friends and is happier in the new learning environment, Ms Ince explains.
While the refugee project was originally planned to end in December, Ms Ince is hopeful to build on the success of the programme so it can be continued. “By working with these individuals, we can provide the support they desperately need to find employment and start building a positive future in Northern Cyprus.”
“The refugee problem is a global humanitarian issue. If there is an opportunity to support these people, we should,” Ms Ince adds.
More than 5.4 million Syrians have fled their country since the outbreak of war in 2011. About half of them are children.