Building trust in Cyprus during times of COVID-19
By Pamela Caracciolo
This piece is part of our May campaign highlighting women in peacekeeping, leading up to the International Day of UN Peacekeepers on 29 May.
The world is facing the COVID-19 pandemic, an invisible enemy that is transcending race, religion, geography and gender. Currently, I am combatting this difficult situation as a UN Peacekeeper with UNFICYP, the UN Peacekeeping Force in Cyprus. No matter where I am, whether in Italy or abroad, being a Carabiniere (a member of the national gendarmerie of Italy) for me means knowing that it is essential to deal with emergency situations with pragmatism in order to ensure the continuity of all, and any, services requested. More than that, we are also carrying out duties of enhancing dialogue with people in the areas concerned, providing support, and offering aid whenever needed.
I have been deployed several times by the Carabinieri to field operations; twice in Hebron, West Bank, and to Baghdad, Iraq. Additionally, I have also been deployed twice to Libya for the humanitarian transport of refugees and children suffering from serious diseases.
The coexistence of different linguistic, cultural and religious groups living together despite the numerous challenges in their respective geographical areas was a reality that I found myself in several times as Carabinieri Police Officer and UN Peacekeeper deployed abroad.
The territories in which I have been called to carry out my duties in accordance with existing international mandates and agreements are often divided; not just geographically but also internally, to the extent that the streets, sacred places and even dwellings exist as spaces of contention.
I have not only been on missions as an observer in the field, but I have also interviewed witnesses, been an instructor to police women in Iraq, and have assisted men, women and children who were seriously ill.
The most significant aspect of my job is mediate and build trust between diverse groups of people. As a peacekeeper, it is vital that respecting the local culture also goes hand in hand with not expressing insensitive attitudes that can damage the trust of local populations. We must not forget that any mission is still a foreign element in the country, even if inhabitants are familiar with our presence and recognise it as an integral part of their everyday life. Acting or behaving in an inappropriate way does not mean creating harm to oneself but to the entire mission of which one is a temporary member, causing serious difficulties to the normal trajectory of work and the safety at risk of everyone involved.
My aim as peacekeeper is to play a part in helping restore the self-esteem of inhabitants and encourage them to recognise the value and importance of their identity. Therefore, my work seeks to rebuild social networks and create new feelings of hope in a reality that is sometimes hard to bear.
The daily patrols, on foot or by car, take me through the streets and places that kindly host me, have allowed me to get to know the locals and establish a relationship built on trust.
Ultimately, being a peacekeeper is not simply a job, it is a dedication to diversity, flexibility, and responsibility. I am always ready to face any challenge that comes my way, making sure first and foremost that no one is left behind.
Pamela Caracciolo is a UN Peacekeeper with UNFICYP, working as part of the Carabinieri Corps of Italy. She has previously been deployed to missions in the West Bank, Iraq and Libya