NICOSIA, Cyprus (AP) — Emmanuel Conteh negotiates the muddy, rutted pathways in shorts and torn plastic flip-flops and says he can’t sleep in his heavy canvas tent at night because of the cold.
He laments the “hellish” conditions in ethnically divided Cyprus’ cramped Pournara migrant reception camp, where he’s been living for the past two months after flying to the breakaway Turkish Cypriot north and then clandestinely crossing into the internationally recognized south.
He says he fled his native Sierra Leone because he was persecuted for refusing to follow in his father’s footsteps and practice a kind of witchcraft.
“The head of this society, they want to train me, but I refused,” said Conteh.
He wants Cypriot authorities to swiftly process his asylum application and let him and others out of the razor-wire-encircled former military camp near the industrial western fringes of the capital Nicosia that he says feels like prison.
“We’re not prisoners. We’re asylum-seekers. Let them finish our process and then (free) us,” Conteh said. “That’s all we’re asking.”
The small eastern Mediterranean island republic is trying to cope with a huge backlog of asylum applications and despite government efforts to expedite the process, migrants say they feel literally left out in the cold.