Gap in the law fails to protect victims of domestic violence


By Stefanos Evripidou

THE STATE services have failed to protect a victim of domestic violence, citing gaps in the law preventing them from helping non-Cypriot spouses who suffer abuse.

A 30-year-old woman from Eastern Europe has been seeking refuge from her abusive husband for the last two weeks but has been left to fend for herself after being repeatedly told by state services that they cannot help a non-Cypriot.

Her appeals for money and refuge failed, giving the woman no choice but to stay in the family home where she was allegedly beaten on two occasions this week.

According to the woman, relations with her Greek national husband deteriorated after the birth of their 14-month-old baby. Last winter, the husband allegedly beat her twice.

Two weeks ago she reported the incident to police and asked the Larnaca Welfare Services to help her find refuge after the husband threatened to kick her out the house and take their child away.

The mother said she could not leave the house as she has no money, job or friends. According to the woman, she is illegally here since her husband has refused to sign the necessary papers to renew her residence permit which expired in 2006.

Given her predicament, the police called her husband and asked him to allow her to stay in the house.

Meanwhile, the Larnaca Welfare Service contacted the Association for the Protection and Handling of Violence in the Family which runs a shelter for victims of family violence. The association said there was no space at the shelter. They noted that even if there was, they were unable to help since the woman was no longer a legal resident.

The welfare officer examining the case looked into providing financial assistance for her to move out with her baby. When the mother finally received a reply from the welfare services last Wednesday, she was told that as a non-Cypriot, she did not have access to benefits.

That same day, the woman’s husband kicked her out without her child. The woman called the police who spoke to the husband again, this time asking him to leave the house. He obliged, until night time when he returned, and allegedly beat her in front of the baby on her legs and stomach. She did not call the police.

The following morning, yesterday, he beat her again. This time she called the police. For the police to arrest the man, the abused must state she is willing to press charges.

“He does what he wants. I was sleeping with the child when he came home from work and started shouting at me, saying he would kill me and cut me up into pieces,” said the woman.

Asked if she would return to the house last night, she said she had no choice as she had nowhere else to go.

Andriana Kossiva, a counsellor from migrant support group KISA, told the Cyprus Mail yesterday that there were huge shortcomings in the protection of victims of family violence in Cyprus.

“There are only two officials in the welfare service dealing with violence in the family. They are based in Nicosia and are both away at seminars right now. No one else at the department can deal with this issue,” she said.

Regarding the issue of benefits, Kossiva noted that in September 2007 the head of the welfare department ordered that state benefits could only be given to Cypriot single mothers. The decision received a barrage of criticism and was withdrawn a few months later.

“It seems the news hasn’t reached Larnaca yet,” said the counsellor.

On the lack of shelter for non-legals, she said: “We have had more serious cases where a woman was broken from head to toe with two infants to look after and still was refused. There was room in the shelter but they couldn’t take her in because she was an illegal immigrant.”

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