We have been working in Cyprus since April 2019.
In order to comply with government restrictions to limit the spread of the Covid-19 virus, we had to close the Dignity Centre in Cyprus on 23 March 2020. While closed, we distributed food to the most vulnerable refugees who were being forced to isolate themselves.
The restrictions and the closure of the Centre was tough on members as Rodrigue told us when we spoke to him in June. At the end of May, we reopened the Dignity Centre with reduced services in line with the law and are slowly increasing what we do as it is safe to do so.
A service that is needed in Nicosia
There are approximately 15,000 registered refugees and asylum seekers from a wide range of countries, plus an estimated 10,000 still unregistered. This comes as a surprise to many but Cyprus has the highest number of Refugees as a percentage of population in Europe.
Many refugees in Nicosia are homeless or in poor quality housing. Money is tight. Boredom and inactivity is undermining their mental health. They have limited employment opportunities. Other support services cannot cope.
Our approach was to work closely with other organisations, fill the gaps, put dignity at the heart of what we do and enable refugees to rebuild their lives.
Just 2 months after arriving in Cyprus in April 2019, we opened a pioneering new service for the many refugees who struggling to break out of a poverty trap:
The Dignity Centre offers a practical and emotional lifeline to help refugees rebuild their lives. Many members now call it ‘The Dignity’ and consider themselves part of a family.
It’s much more than a drop-in centre. It’s a place of hope. Somewhere they can start thinking about forging a new life far from home. And perhaps most important of all, reminding them that they are not forgotten and that people do care.
Dignity Centre Nicosia
We completely renovated a 3-story building in the centre of Nicosia, close to other essential services, with new plumbing, electricity, internet, air conditioning, redecoration, furniture and fittings.
Over the last 12 months, we have continued to upgrade and redecorate the building to make it as welcoming as possible.
All refugees and asylum seekers are welcome and free to use the Centre. We have a timetable of events that we publish on a facebook page.
Greek and English are critical for employment. Thanks to amazing local teachers who give up their time to help, we have been running classes in English and Greek for adults and in Arabic to children. We hope to restart this critical service soon once distancing restrictions are lifted.
We have installed a bank of computers with internet access so that people can learn basic computer skills. Computer classes have been run by Jude and we give out certificates to everyone who completed them.
The computers also enable people to write their own CVs with support from volunteers and members. Of course, many refugees and asylum seekers had rich career histories before they arrived in Cyprus and many have secured jobs immediately after presenting CVs to employers.
Sewing co-operative: Refumade
Using donated sewing machines and material that we buy locally, our 30+ co-operative members are carefully hand-making unique and desirable items. Once they pass our rigorous quality control, we buy everything the members produce at about 80% of the sale price. You can buy what they produce from our dedicated online shop.
Check out the story of the sewing cooperative here:
We run sewing classes every week in order to improve people’s skills and ensure our products are the best quality. Experienced tailor Ba, a refugee from Guinea Bissau, manages the co-operative and advises members on their technique.
It’s much more than a place to learn skills and earn a bit of money. It is a place of welcome that offers a sense of purpose:
Bicycle repair and distribution
Bicycles are not only fun to ride but also essential transport for people. It enables them to work further away from home – something that would be impossible with public transport. Many have found and kept work after receiving a bicycle.
And many of those bikes also go to kids.We bring over donated bikes from the UK in a container and distribute them to members who repair them with resources that we provide.
Kitchen and cookery
Our completely new and well equipped kitchen has been built thanks to support from LDS Charities to prepare food for celebrations but also to offer cookery and nutrition training to the unaccompanied young refugees (18-21 year olds).
Most people are living locally in crowded and poorly equipped apartments. Some are homeless. So we have washing machines to help with their laundry. And two showers so they can freshen up.
Not only do people need to be clean and tidy, they need to look good. Our weekly Barbers service is very popular. Not only can Members get a free haircut but our Barbers are learning new skills.
We were serving breakfast 3 days a week first in partnership with our friends at Caritas and then from the Dignity. When Covid struck the island we quickly established a food delivery service for the most vulnerable people. Since the end of May we have been running a food pick up service for over 100 people a week.
Let’s Eat! events
During the summer we hosted monthly, recurring meals for local refugees using a shared community space on the 2nd Tuesday of every month. We want to bring people together with food and have some fun! These events are always a hit and we serve about 250 meals in cooperation with the British Army’s 4th Regiment Royal Artillery who are there as part of the peace-keeping force
Leisure and entertainment
UNHCR Teen Transition Kits
When unaccompanied minors turn 18 they are no longer eligible for supported housing and need to live independently. In partnership with UNHCR and Hope for Children we give the leavers our Teen Transition Kits. The Kits contain basic household items that are essential to a young person starting out on their own.
The Centre is all about the people. Manager Paula Tamarit has done a fantastic job of uniting local residents, hard-working volunteers from around the work and Centre Members with a common purpose to help others with dignity.
We are increasingly handing control of the Dignit over to its Members. We want to take as much power as possible away from the ‘givers’ and put as much as possible into the hands of the ‘receivers’. Charity is fine but people need independence and self-determination. During Refugee Week in June 2020, we handed complete control of the Centre over to Members?:
Together with generous donors and fantastic local suppliers, the Centre is a thriving and valuable service for the whole of Nicosia.
We need you
We need volunteers to continue developing and managing the Centre. It is hard work and it is very rewarding. You can help.