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Refugees ‘at risk’ in dangerous housing estates

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Cyprus is “on the verge of a national disaster” as more than 40 buildings used by hundreds of Greek Cypriot refugees are in danger of collapsing, said the mayors of five greater Nicosia municipalities.

In a joint statement, the mayors of Latsia, Nicosia, Strovolos, Lakatamia and Anglandjia, called on President Nikos Christodoulides and Interior Minister Constantinos Ioannou to intervene, as hundreds of lives could be at stake.

The mayors said that the “long-standing ineptitude of the State, to offer a holistic solution to the management of the issue in question, may become criminal, in the event of natural disasters, just as in the case of the recent earthquakes in Turkey and Syria”.

The 7.8 magnitude earthquake that struck the two neighbouring countries on February 6 this year, resulted in a number of poorly maintained and constructed buildings to collapse, claiming more than 50,000 lives.

The five mayors also called on the Department of Urban Planning and Housing to disclose the findings of a 2020 study regarding the static adequacy of apartment buildings in the government estates.

According to reports, the survey reveals that immediate steps need to be taken to improve the condition of 43 apartment buildings used by refugees, deemed unsuitable and dangerous.

As the mayors note, the survey has languished in the corridors of the Department of Urban Planning and Housing for almost three years, with no action taken.

They noted that the majority of these buildings were build some 45 years ago, following the Turkish invasion of 1974, without observing the current seismic codes.

They were also built in a hurry, as there was an urgent need to house the refugees who were forced to abandon their homes in the Turkish occupied north of the island.

“They were victims of this invasion, the majority of them are now elderly citizens, trapped in dangerous apartments which are in danger of collapsing and who have nowhere else to go”, they added.

The mayors’ announcement comes as the House Refugees Committee also called for immediate steps to be taken to improve the condition of 43 apartment buildings used by refugees, which were deemed unsuitable and dangerous.

Below limits

The chairman of the parliamentary committee and AKEL MP Nikos Kettiros, told Astra Radio that the static adequacy of the buildings is below the limits provided by the legislation and determined by the technical chamber ETEK. As he explained, the static efficiency must be at 25 newtons (unit of measurement) and in some refugee apartment buildings it is at 10, that is, less than half.

Kettiros said that the House Refugees Committee has written to the Director of the Department of Town Planning, the Ministry of the Interior, the Attorney General, the Auditor General, the Associations of Municipalities and Communities and the Cyprus Refugee Union.

The AKEL MP noted that, “the Committee will be holding each one of the competent authorities accountable for any mishaps in the future, should they ignore the House’s warnings and calls”.

The MP said that the committee is giving the Department of Town Planning time to table the report before the House within one week.

Meanwhile, Interior Minister Constantinos Ioannou called an urgent meeting on the issues surrounding refugee estates, which is due to take place later on Thursday.

As reported, the Chairman of the House Refugees Committee, Larnaca Mayor Andreas Vyras as the Chairman of the Union of Municipalities, the Cyprus Refugee Union, and the technical chamber ETEK, advising the government, will be present at the meeting.

A source told the Cyprus News Agency (CNA) that Ioannou has also instructed the department of town planning to prepare scenarios for the urgent management of the issue, in order to immediately draw up a comprehensive plan of action to be implemented, “without delay, with the aim of a comprehensive solution of the problem”.