MIGRANT SUPPORT GROUP UNDER SIEGE (Cyprus)
10/7/2007- Immigrant support group KISA are launching a campaign to protect the organisation and its workers, after its chairman was prosecuted by police for disobeying a court order and allegedly receiving stolen goods. The issue stems from a fundraising campaign launched in 2001 to pay for a migrant domestic worker’s emergency surgery, after her employer refused to cover it despite being obliged to by law. Such money collections are generally considered illegal, but are not usually criminalised. In 2002, police prosecuted KISA for raising the money. The 2004 court decision resulted in a £250 fine for the organisation, as well as £120 in court expenses and confiscation of the £573 raised, which had been deposited by members of the public into a Bank of Cyprus account. Now they are prosecuting Doros Polycarpou, chairman and treasurer of KISA, for having transferred the money into another account, a fact police only discovered when they went to pick the money up. The Police Chief of the Nicosia District, whom KISA cites as responsible for the prosecution, alleges that Polycarpou evaded a court order by having the money transferred. But Polycarpou insists the money had been transferred as far back as 2002, when the Makarios Hospital decided to proceed with the domestic worker’s surgery for free after mounting public pressure. He says KISA moved the money into another account to contribute to a fund being raised for a recognised migrant in need of surgery. “We did nothing to avoid the ruling of the court. The money had already been transferred by the time proceedings took place. “It was the police’s mistake not to investigate what had happened to the money before the court ruling or before they went to pick it up,” he said.
Polycarpou alleges that during the campaign to raise the money, it was clearly stated that if the government decided to pay for the domestic worker’s surgery, the money would be given to another needy migrant. He stated: “We had promised the money to the refugee, who had undergone psychological preparation for the surgery. The operation is an extremely complicated one, and was not covered by the free state health system. We could not simply take the money back.” The state is usually lenient on collections for health reasons, prosecuting individuals only when fraud or embezzlement is suspected to play a factor. In 1996, a bill concerning money collection regulation was presented by the Council of Ministers to the House of Representatives, which concluded that such money collections would not be actively regulated. They cited the fact that regulating such collections would effectively prove the state’s inability to provide adequate public health care. A statement by the District Officer noted that such money-raising activities were not legal, but that they were not considered criminal activities, said Polycarpou, who added it was the Immigration Office that decided to criminalise KISA money collections. “I understand that by law the money collecting was not legal, but why don’t the police attack the media who engage in these kind of fund-raising activities all the time? “We consider this a clear discriminatory procedure against us, because it was the police who took the initiative to criminalise our activities,” said Polycarpou. The domestic worker at the centre of the case had been living and working legally on the island. She was diagnosed with a serious uterine disease, and had been recommended for surgery. Her employer, a senior official at the Foreign Ministry, refused to pay for her medical expenses and began pressuring her to leave the country. When she refused, the woman was arrested for deportation by the Alien and Immigration Service. KISA eventually intervened and helped negotiate the woman’s release.
KISA claim the Labour Ministry has confirmed the employer’s obligations to pay medical expenses, and that these obligations are a term of the contractual agreement signed by the employer to grant residence and employment visas. It added, however, that it had no means of enforcing that legislation. The employer was not prosecuted, but given a licence to employ a new domestic worker by Immigration, who then asked police to investigate KISA’s fund-raising activities. “It is interesting that the police have decided to take us to court, but are not prosecuting the employer, who was required to pay for the surgery by law,” said Polycarpou. Polycarpou believes KISA is being targeted because of the organisation’s criticism of the way police have handled immigrant and refugee issues in the past. “We think the police acted on this without paying attention to the political or human rights dimensions of the matter. They did not stop to realise that, while money-raising is illegal, it cannot be criminalised.” Polycarpou’s court date is expected to be some time in October or November, and if found guilty on both counts, he faces up to two years in prison. A Deputy for Police Chief Iacovos Papacostas stated that the police were not prepared to comment on whether Polycarpou was facing prosecution or criminal charges.
Support for the campaign
The new campaign comes after a letter was sent by KISA to the Attorney General in February, demanding that the prosecution be suspended. The request was denied. Polycarpou told the Cyprus Mail: “We hope that this campaign by KISA will get the government to understand that this is not helping the case for immigrants, and we hope that they will cancel this procedure against me. “At the moment we have a number of unofficial but promising responses to the campaign. These include ENAR, who are trying to do something on a European level through various NGOs and inform the associations in their network, and are writing to the government about the situation.” Polycarpou cited the Green Party as sympathisers, stating that they planned to write to the Attorney-general. He also noted that the State Department sympathised with KISA and shared the opinion that the organisation’s money collecting activities were unjustly criminalised by the police.
© Cyprus Mail