In a crowded room with refugees and asylum seekers, the graduation ceremony of Phase A’ of “First Step” Vocational Education and Training program was held on Tuesday, February 11, at the Cultural Centre of the European University of Cyprus.

The program aims to integrate TCN nationals legally residing in Cyprus by acquiring basic skills and knowledge for rapid job search in Cyprus. “First Step is on a pilot project phase and it is co-financed by the European Asylum Fund for Immigration and Integration (90%) and the Republic of Cyprus (10%).Priority needs and performance assessments are given to beneficiaries of international protection (refugees and subsidiaries) as well as asylum seekers.

The pilot program named “First Step” is being implemented for the first time in Cyprus in a period of increased refugee flows and seeks to facilitate integration by matching skills with the needs in the Cypriot labor market.

First Step Coordinator Nadia Karayianni, in a report on the progress of the program, stated at the event that during September 2019 – January 2020, a total of 328 beneficiaries participated in Phase A’ of the training, which included 36 hours of general training. Out of these, 268 have successfully completed the exams, and now Phase B’ will focus on the vocational training in various fields of work, such as Accounting, Customer Service and Sales Principles, Hotel and Leisure Management and Healthy Food. Phase B’, which it is expected to be completed by the summer, focuses on areas where trainees will be employable.

Addressing the participants, Konstantinos Kyprianou, Head of the European Funds Unit at the Ministry of the Interior, welcomed the implementation of the program, stressing its special importance in the integration process. He also noted that the Cypriot government intends in the coming years to implement the program on a more extensive basis and looks forward, through its pilot operation “First Step”, to evaluate the data, difficulties and opportunities that might arise in order to continually improve it.

During the ceremony, certificates were awarded to successful participants, in a celebratory atmosphere that also included the presentation of an cultural program by refugee musicians, dancers and poets asylum. Michael Nwandoh, from Cameroon, wrote a poem calling on the participants: <<Make our teachers and Cyprus proud, and today’s day be recorded as a special one>>. Cameroonian artist Da Viny sang in contemporary rhythms and Guinean Saanu Douaya danced Hip – hop. Drummer Ibrahim Kamara from Cambia presented his own heritage with unique sounds from Africa. Master of ceremony was Rema Beshtawy, who sent her own message of integration and acceptance into Cypriot society.

Program tutor Anna Xynisteris congratulated all attendees as well as the trainers on their success, highlighting the positivity they showed to overcome difficulties and gain basic knowledge. Some refugees and asylum seekers students also talked about their experiences and impressions of joining “First Step”. In particular, they expressed their gratitude and joy for the opportunity to learn, but also their willingness to find work to make their lives confident and dignified.

Singing, dancing, live music and poetry and finally a reception with DJ Claudio’s music ended an amazing night at the European University, which is the academic partner of the program.

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