At shore | 2015 | Cyprus
Despite devastation that followed by the Turkish occupation of northern Cyprus in 1974, the so-called “economic miracle” of the late 1970s and 1980s brought growth to the Greek south. A lack of low-skilled laborers prompted Cyprus to open its doors to foreign workers in 1990, abandoning the restrictive immigration policies. In 2004, Cyprus joined the EU. These two factors have lead to a steadily increasing immigration rate on the island over the past two decades.
As growing numbers of people displaced by nearby conflict zones try to reach Europe, the island’s vulnerable populations have also increased, and proven an easy target for exploitation. In hopes of escaping the cycle of poverty and hardship, families and young adults in developing countries sign away their homes or take out high risk loans, all to pay thousands of dollars to so called employment agencies to obtain work visas overseas and so enter Cyprus. For many people, the future looks quite dark and without much to lose, people take the chance when being offered a lucrative job, hoping to reach something better on the other side.
Many of the foreign workers expect to arrive in Europe's mainland with fairly good integration policies and welcoming communities, but instead are landing on contested lands, where the media and public debate circles around allegations that migrants and asylum seekers receive too many benefits and are responsible for the rise in crime, car accidents, and diseases.
Although the land is divided, the victims of trafficking that are being held by corrupt businesses are regularly trafficked across borders. Ironically, the police and government officials on either end of the conflict do not cooperate, while the mafia on both sides communicates and works well together.
Recruited by corrupt employment agencies abroad, many migrants are being coerced into low income jobs in the tourism and nightclub industry, domestic, and agriculture sector. Many migrants end up forced into labour, prostitution, and inhumane treatment by the employers with little to no time off. Domestic workers, with slave like working conditions and an average net salary of 309 Euro a month, become trapped in employers’ houses and are totally dependent on them for their well-being.
Further compounding their isolation is a lack of language skills and knowledge of labour protection rights. As a result, many of the migrants become homeless with nothing to show for but expired work permits - while their families back home have expectations for them to succeed, and to return one day.
Non-profits on the island are endlessly and effortlessly on the move trying to prevent and intercept trafficking. Safe houses and transitional apartments are available with limited access. Outreach programs are providing job training and mental health support are crucial but the employment opportunities that exist in the labour market are totally inadequate for victims of trafficking; they do not take into account victims’ needs, capabilities, and need for flexibility. Finding a source of regular income is crucial in helping survivors recover and get back on their own fee and programing by local non profits who teach job skills, hygiene, and psychological support is the first stepping stone on a long journey to a life in dignity.
Although migrant workers contribute significantly to Cyprus economy and everyday life, they are invisible in relation to policy and legislation as these relate to integration, violence against women, exploitation and trafficking of human beings. Over the past years only a few cases have been brought to light showing conditions of vulnerability of workers that speak to the context in which trafficking and forced labour develops, but the issue remains invisible.
Back in 2012, the Greek South part was ranked Tier 2 Watchlist with means that the minimum standards of the Trafficking Victims Protection Act (TVPA) were not fulfilled but the country would make an effort to combat trafficking. The Turkish North (which is not recognized as a country by the international community was ranked even worse, Tier 3, which means a zone of impunity for trafficking and forced labor.
Today, only the Greek side has made improvements over the last couple of years and is now Tier 2. The trafficking police has increased its raids on bars and nightclubs, but only a handful convictions could be achieved in the last year. There is much progress to be made.
HOW TO GET INVOLVED: ISLAND IN THE SUN IS A WORK IN PROGRESS
AND WILL OPEN AS AN EXHIBITION in FALL 2016
For more information and partnership opportunities please contact
Maren Wickwire / email@example.com
In close relationship with local nonprofits and human rights advocacy groups in Cyprus, the multimedia installation and web based storytelling project will highlight narratives of TCN that live, work and study in Cyprus, empowering participants share their perspectives and experiences, allowing us to draw attention to the issue, and promoting inclusion and long-term integration strategies instead of control and discrimination of the other.
An increasing need to raise awareness and foster empathy for refugees and migrants worldwide motivates me personally to explore participatory and inclusive visual storytelling with the hopes to instigate dialogues and sensibility towards protecting and sheltering the most vulnerable populations around the world.