Question about Egyptian workers killed in fire in Cyprus | Business and Economic News

Odou, Cyprus – In the Odou agricultural community in the Strodos Mountains of Cyprus, the day’s work was over close to sunset. As the light faded, the quiet village became alive with the buzzing of a series of pickup trucks returning from the fields loaded with fresh produce and Egyptian farm workers picking it.

Located among the steep rock walls and terraces, the small hall reveals the scars of a new tragedy.The surrounding hillsides were completely black and scorched by the forest fire-described as The worst ever in Cyprus – Swept the entire village on July 3rd.

Four Egyptian workers were killed in the fire, and the fate of them and their surviving compatriots has become the subject of abuse allegations.

“If you don’t respect workers, they will be ignored, so these things will happen,” Doros Polycarp, the head of the Cyprus human rights organization KISA, told Al Jazeera.

The following morning after the fire, the remains of 36-year-old Ezzat Salama Youssef, 22-year-old Samwiel Milad Farouk, 23-year-old Maged Nabil Yonan, and 39-year-old Marzouk Shohdy Marzouk were found in the burned area outside Odou. They were hired by local farmers to pick tomatoes during the summer harvest, and when the fire approached and cut off their escape routes, they were working in the fields.

Polykarpou claimed that these deaths were a direct result of institutional discrimination against migrant workers.

“After these incidents, the authorities repeatedly made promises, but they did not take any action,” he said.

The union also called on the government to take action.

“We hope that the Ministry of Labor will act quickly so that they can provide answers to everyone and assign responsibilities where they exist,” the Pansipriya Federation of Labor said in a statement. statement After death.

Smoke from a forest fire was seen in the village of Ora in Larnaca, Cyprus [File: Andrea Anastasiou via Reuters]

So far, the only arrest related to the fire is a 67-year-old man suspected of arson while burning grass in a field in the nearby village of Arakapas. In addition to the victims, 55 square kilometers of villages and farmland were burned-destroying 50 houses, causing millions of euros in damage, and forcing the evacuation of 10 villages.

Andreas Christou of the Ministry of Forestry, which is responsible for fighting forest fires, told Al Jazeera that the combination of high winds, summer heat waves and dry vegetation meant that conditions prevented the fire from being quickly brought under control.

“All factors are conducive to the fire,” he said. “Narrow agricultural roads prevent fire trucks from quickly entering the front line.”

He said that by July 5th, 15 firefighting aircraft will be needed to control the fire.

On an ordinary night in Odou, Egyptian workers took a bath, changed into new clothes, and gathered in the village square with the locals. However, when Al Jazeera visited five days after the fire broke out, many people gathered directly from get off work to participate in an impromptu street discussion on labor rights organized by KISA.

“There is no up-to-date framework to regulate wages or workers’ rights,” Polykarpou said before asking workers about their conditions.

The air is still full of smoke, and the tree stumps on the hillside in the distance continue to burn. Many Egyptian workers attending the gathering are more concerned about the fate and immediate worries of their lost compatriots, rather than systemic changes.

“My boss’s fields are all burned out, so I don’t know if I will continue to receive wages,” said one.

Another questioned the desire to talk about working conditions when the focus should be on providing burials for the dead.

“Their bodies have not been sent home, and the family wants to bury them,” he said. “How do you talk about this now?”

They say that the average monthly salary is 500 Euros ($590) per month.

Odou’s Egyptian workers formed a tightly united group. In the summer, the population of the village’s 175 residents is swollen by as many as 150 seasonal workers. Most are from the villages around Sohag in the Upper Nile region of Egypt, and many people have family or mutual connections.

Workers are reluctant to talk openly with the media-fearing that they will be retaliated against by the Egyptian authorities when they return to their country, or that their future employment opportunities in Cyprus will be endangered.

Beniamin (a pseudonym), 28, said that he has been in Odou for six years.

“My boss is very good and his job is very good,” he said. “I have no problem here. At the end of the season, I returned to work on the family farm.”

The workers said that on the day of the fire, they returned to the field after lunch at 3 pm. When smoke filled the sky, the problem quickly became apparent. The employer started calling the staff and told them to find a safe place.

Everyone in Odu on the day of the fire attributed the tragic death to the speed of the fire, which was caused by strong winds.

“The fire was so fast that it could not be controlled,” said local farmer Antonis Korniotis. “We started to formulate the evacuation plan around 3:30 in the afternoon. All the farmers are calling the workers in the fields to ask them to leave.”

He said that the villagers themselves decided to evacuate. He packed a group of Egyptians into his pickup truck and sent them to a safe place.

“There is no formal evacuation order,” he said. “If we wait, everyone will die now. The village is saved because some people stayed to defend it.”

Benjamin confirmed that the locals helped bring them to safety. He said that it is understood that when their mobile phones stopped ringing, something happened to the four deceased at night. A group of Egyptians began searching the mountains near their residence in the dark, but was forced to cancel the search until morning.

“At six o’clock, when we came back we saw their car crashed in the ditch-completely burnt down,” he said. “We started walking along a dry river nearby, but some people said they couldn’t take this road because it was too steep and difficult.”

The body was found on a hillside about 400 meters from the abandoned vehicle-only 150 meters from where the fire stopped.

Odou Mayor Menelaos Phillippou said that everyone in the village grieves the passing of their lives.

“These deaths are a tragedy for us,” he said. “All of us who hire workers think it’s easy to become our employees.”

A firefighter fights flames in the forest on the slopes of the Troodos Mountains [File: Georgios Lefkou Papapetrou/AFP]

He rejected any allegations of abuse of Egyptian workers. He said that as the mayor, every local farmer must report the identity and number of employees in order to collect municipal service fees. Everything else is supervised by national authorities.

“Since the fire, people have talked about us in the media, but no one came to ask for information about the situation before accusing us,” he said, adding that Egyptians are a welcome addition to village life. “In the evening we get together to play table football or billiards. Every week they hold a Coptic church service in our community center. There is a pastor from Limassol.”

In addition to the local recovery package, the Cyprus government also announced plans to provide 95,000 euros (US$112,200) in subsidies and additional subsidies for each child to the families of the deceased. The children of the deceased will also receive scholarships from the University of Cyprus.

Philip said that in addition to the government’s efforts, the villagers have also been raising funds and planning to travel to Egypt to meet with their families. He said the monument to the victims of the fire will be unveiled in the next few weeks.

“Even after 100 years, their names will still be remembered,” he said.

The body was returned to Egypt, and the funeral was held on Sunday.

Benjamin said the delay caused pain to the family.

“Everyone in the family is going crazy,” he said. “I know the mage’s father. We talked about it a month ago, and he asked how his son was.”

For him, the help to his family is welcome, but the uncertainty of their status is still the cause of the tragedy.

Benjamin said: “The money promised by the Cyprus government is for those who stay, but it won’t let them come back.” “The biggest problem is Egypt’s economy. If we can be more comfortable at home, we don’t need it. Come here.”

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