Refugees and Social Reconstruction

Refugees and Social Reconstruction

During and immediately after the 1974 invasion, the Department of Social Welfare Services undertook the housing, clothing, and feeding of the 200,000 refugees. The social needs stemming from the invasion were so great, however, that a new agency, the Special Service for the Care and Rehabilitation of Displaced Persons, was established in September 1974. Initially this agency concentrated on emergency relief by distributing food and clothing and providing medical assistance to the refugee camps. After a few months, it became clear that the thousands of displaced people would not return to their homes in the foreseeable future. As a result, the agency gradually expanded its scope, to aid the reintegration of the displaced into the new society forming in the governmentcontrolled area, once their immediate physical survival had been ensured.

Housing for the wave of refugees was initially provided by the construction of twenty-three camps housing 20,000 displaced persons in tents. Thousands, however, remained outside the camps in shacks, makeshift barracks, public buildings, and half-finished houses. By the end of 1975, the service had replaced its tents with wooden barracks, built by the occupants themselves with materials or money provided by the service.

Another initiative that contributed to solving the refugee problem was the Incentive Scheme for the Reactivation of Refugees. Instituted in 1976, this program provided financial incentives to help refugees get back on their feet. Funds were available to all refugees, but special emphasis was placed on certain occupational groups that could soon become economically self-reliant, such as farmers in remote areas. By fostering economic recovery, the program successfully combated a culture of despair in the refugee community and spared the government a considerable drain on its public assistance funds. Despite the magnitude of the refugee problem, the government concluded that by 1977 its measures had succeeded in rehabilitating all groups affected by the invasion.

The Special Service for the Care and Rehabilitation of Displaced Persons also undertook the construction of low-cost housing projects. In the 1975-86 period, 12,500 low-income families found housing in such projects, which also provided social services in the form of day-care centers, schools, and community and commercial centers. Other government programs that enabled thousands of refugees to live in acceptable housing involved "selfhousing " on either private or state-owned land. In the period 1975- 86, nearly 10,500 houses were built on private properties, and 11,000 on state-owned sites, at a cost to the government of Cú80 million. By 1987 more than 43,000 families, about 80 percent of displaced persons, had been housed.

Once the refugee housing problem had been resolved, the government extended its housing program to include lowand middleincome groups, who also faced serious housing problems because of a tremendous increase in the cost of land and construction. Through a combination of controls on the value of land and housing loans, the government succeeded in significantly improving housing conditions.

Also introduced were a number of programs such as child care and youth recreation centers, hostels for the aged, assistance for invalids, and welfare community centers, all of which were incorporated in the existing services of the Department of Social Welfare Services. In this way, the objectives of social policy were redefined as the "systematization, institutionalization, and legalization of public assistance, and the reconstruction of personal, family and social life in the island."

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