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The Refugee Dilemma

One reason Greek Cypriots rejected last April UN Secretary General Kofi Annan's plan for the reunification of Cyprus was that an overwhelming majority of them felt it did not do justice to the claims of refugees displaced during the 1974 Turkish invasion. This was also one of the few occasions when international public opinion became aware that there was a refugee problem on the island, because few people knew that refugees from that war still exist.

When Turkey invaded Cyprus in 1974 after an abortive attempt by the Greek military junta in Athens to carry out Enosis (unification with Greece), 250,000 or so Greek Cypriots were uprooted from their homes. Some fled in terror from the invading army, some were expelled - the usual complex, morally problematic picture that emerges in such situations.

Although overwhelmed, the Greek Cypriot community reacted with humanity, solidarity, and prudence. Initially, refugees camps were set up, but the Greek Cypriot government decided that while it will not surrender the refugees' claim eventually to return to their homes in the North, it would do its utmost in the interim not to leave them vegetating in squalid camps.

No UN-sponsored refugee agency was established to help the refugees. Instead, with some international help, but mostly out of its own resources, the Republic of Cyprus - a small, then not very prosperous country that was devastated by war - launched a re-settlement and rehabilitation program as a national project. Government loans were offered for housing construction. In many cases, refugees built their own new homes.