The NGO Caritas Cyprus has sounded the alarm over incidents of hunger among asylum seekers as a result of changes in the way food coupons are distributed by the Social Welfare Services.
State services acknowledged some delays, but said these were the result of initial problems pending the transition to a new system.
According to Caritas Cyprus, Social Welfare had last month changed the way it distributes food coupons to refugees applying for asylum. Previously, asylum seekers had to collect their food coupons directly from Social Welfare offices, but now they are called to collect them from the post office.
The transition to the new system has caused several delays in the collection of coupons, which resulted in many people still waiting to receive them since January, and as a result, they are desperate and hungry, it said.
Caritas said they acknowledge the authorities’ effort to improve the system, but points out that practicalities should have been resolved before its implementation.
In addition, the charity said that due to the shortage of accommodation in Nicosia, Social Welfare has placed groups of asylum seekers in communities far from city centres, including villages like Galata and Pedoulas and places with excess hotel space like Ayia Napa.
As a result, the NGO has been overwhelmed by requests for food from people outside Nicosia, as the new places refugees were moved to have no local organisations in this field to respond to the food shortage emergency.
Head of Social Welfare Services Maria Kyratzi told in-cyprus that the change in the way food coupons are distributed is in order to provide a more efficient service to the public, adding that coupons are still partly collected directly from the Social Welfare Services’ offices in parallel with the new post office system.
Kyratzi explained that this is a new procedure and it will take time for it to run smoothly, in addition to delays caused by corrective measures that have to be taken for various issues as they arise, like for example the occasional submission of the wrong document details.
Asked whether she is aware of any incidents of hunger due to the delays in the new system’s implementation, Kyratzi said that “we would under no circumstances leave people without help,” adding that if there is an issue with food shortages it will be investigated in collaboration with the charity.