Due to its strategic geographical position on the crossroad of three continents, Cyprus is an easy entry point for people fleeing their country in the hopes of a better future in Europe. By the end of December 2021, the percentage of asylum seekers in the Republic was 4,4%, despite the COVID 19 pandemic and limitations to people’s movements across the EU. Even though there are many NGOs and private initiatives that take up the role of facilitators of migrants’ and asylum seekers’ integration, the lack of a humanitarian and well planned policy creates barriers in the effort towards their integration.
People with a migration background is often forced to form ghettos in city centers or “poor” neighborhoods, while facing unemployment, mistrust, bad living conditions and lack of access to the country’s healthcare system.
For this reason, in the framework of INTEgreat, SYNTHESIS has planned and is currently implementing a pilot project, to test the Integration Strategy Framework developed in the framework of the project focusing on the integration of TCNs through a series of activities that involves locals, stakeholders and TCNs alike. Among other activities and an awareness raising campaign, SYNTHESIS is currently running a social café for TCNs, an intervention which embraces various activities and is designed to include migrants, refugees and asylum seekers.
Instead of offering a series of workshops in various locations, we decided to offer workshops in the premises of HUB Nicosia, which is strategically located in the center of the city where the majority of migrants, refugees and asylum seekers can be found. This decision was made to safeguard that TCNs have a regular space to meet up and participate in workshops that are specifically tailored to their needs. The workshops take place on Sundays and include, digital skills training (Microsoft Word , employability skills (CV building, presenting oneself, job interview preparation) and other important skills.
During the workshops, the space and time is given to participants to voice their needs with regards to training and thus future activities are planned to cater for those needs. So far, we have witnessed a great interest in skills related to employment and work readiness and we have formed the workshops offered based on that interest. To be able to offer workshops in such a flexible manner has enabled us to attract TCNs’ interest since many of them reported feelings of disappointment and frustration from their current state which is characterized by ambivalence and uncertainty about the future. The responses we got from participants were encouraging and led us to adding more Sunday sessions for the future and consideration towards other areas that can be included in the workshops.
An interesting aspect which should be noted is the importance of trust and the involvement of community leaders, two factors that not only vouch for the success of the workshops but are also important for the integration of TCNs within local communities. Community leaders are usually pastors or people who have earned the respect of TCNs and are considered as their representatives and those who can fight for the community’s rights. To ensure that we would be able to achieve maximum outreach and engagement of TCNs in our Social Caffe, we firstly contacted the community leaders in Nicosia and asked for their help and support in our activities. Their involvement is what earned us trust among members of the community and enabled us to reach a greater number of TCNs.
Even though stakeholders’ involvement is considered as crucial for the integration of TCNs in every community, the presence of respected community leaders and their role as mediators between locals and migrants, is of essential importance and cannot be overlooked. The increase of trust amongst migrant communities, safeguarded by the intervention of community leaders is a necessary prerequisite for integration. The social café as an institution in combination with support from community leaders can be a great means to support the entire process of integration.