We publish a translated version of a New Internationalist Left (NEDA) statement. NEDA is the Internationalist Standpoint affiliate in Cyprus
Sunday, August 27th, saw the aftermath of a rally against immigration. Approximately 200-300 individuals embarked on a pogrom targeting immigrants across the regions of Chloraka, Lemba and Emba in Paphos.
They launched assaults on immigrant residences and vandalized local shops. They even turned their aggression towards immigrants striving to shield their families. At some point they attacked a Cypriot grandmother trying to protect the children of her Syrian neighbor. The police, who was present during these attacks, remained passive. The arrests made later are totally out of line with the scale of the events.
These developments were far from spontaneous. According to KISA (Movement for Equality, Support, Antirascism), a day prior to the events, extremist far-right and fascist groups used social media to mobilize like-minded individuals. Their goal was to assemble attack battalions with the objective of purging Paphos, and subsequently the whole of Cyprus, of refugees. In essence, the far-right party ELAM, with their nationalist allies, sought to carry out a pogrom reminiscent of the darkest chapters in history, with alarming parallels to Nazi practices.
The wave of violence persisted into Monday, September 28th, after a peaceful sit-in protest organised by Syrian residents in Chloraka.
The current immigration policy is the problem
Amidst the current turmoil, a chorus of hypocritical voices can be heard. All political parties lay blame on “the absence of a coherent immigration policy” as the root cause of the ongoing distress. Yet, the reality remains that the Republic of Cyprus does have an immigration policy – and a specific one indeed. This policy treats immigrants and refugees as modern-day serfs, exploiting them as low-wage labor, thereby perpetuating impoverishment and ghettoisation- the very conditions that fuel racism and provide fertile ground for the strengthening of the far-right.
A closer examination of the existing immigration policy reveals:
-Immigrants recruited as laborers through agencies are subjected to grueling work, often on a 24-hour availability basis, while getting even less than the minimum wage.
-As for students, they arrive with the promise that working 20 hours weekly will suffice to sustain them amidst exorbitant university fees. This promise, however, proves futile, leading them to desperate circumstances where they are coerced into working 12 to 16 hours daily; all while receiving less than the minimum wage.
-Refugees, compelled to seek refuge due to the Middle East and Africa’s ongoing conflicts, are met with a grim reality upon arriving in Cyprus. They are denied the right to work for the first nine months, and the funds allocated by the European Union for their well-being fall drastically short of providing decent living conditions. As a result, many are left with no choice but to resort to illegal employment in a bid to survive.
The expiry of residence permits leaves immigrants and students with one choice: to apply for asylum- the only method to extend their stay, albeit temporarily, in Cyprus.
Trapped in these dire circumstances, immigrants and refugees become victims of employers and landlords who exploit their desperation. They are paid far less than the minimum wage, denied essential social and health benefits and left in a state of continuous vulnerability. They are denied renting a flat or forced to squeeze into cramped accommodations. These practices are silently accepted and even promoted by the state.
This situation is not accidental; it’s a calculated policy enforced by the government and the establishment. Despite changes in government, the core of this policy has remained unchanged overtime. Over the last three decades, various political parties ruled Cyprus, yet none have made changes in this respect. Every single one of these parties, without exception, bears the weight of hypocrisy and shares responsibility for the present events.
This policy lays the ground for racism
The state’s immigration policy has undeniably layed the ground for the events in the Agios Nikolaos complex. Originally rented by the state to serve as houses for asylum seekers and refugees, the situation escalated when the property’s owners refused to pay water bills and local authorities eventually cut water supply.
In 2020, the complex’s condition was declared unsuitable for human habitation, prompting its closure. However, the residents, mired in poverty, chose to stay for two years, going by without access to water and electricity. One cannot help but question where the state was during these years, and why alternative, dignified accommodations weren’t provided for those people.
Rather than addressing these issues, previous government just issued a decree prohibiting new migrants from residing in Chloraka. They simultaneously slashed wages and benefits for refugees. They protracted the duration of the period refugees were prohibited from finding employment and fortified the barricades between the north and south of the island with barbed wire to stop the flow of refugees from the north.
These policies were coupled with racist rhetoric of officials from DISY, DIKO, EDEK and ELAM, centering on the argument of “altering the demographic composition of Cyprus” and “deliberately dispatching illegal immigrants from Turkey”. This propaganda served to normalise racism and to embolden neo-fascist groups, thereby laying the groundwork for the violent events of the pogrom.
Their hypocrisy is enraging. While a big Russian community resides in Limassol, no complaints arise regarding its supposed “alteration of Cyprus’ demographic fabric” or the emergence of Russian-majority areas. Likewise, silence prevails concerning the influx of passports sold to numerous billionaires, including individuals with criminal records, by Cyprus’ ruling elite, contributing to the construction of the Limassol towers.
The events in Chloraka served to distract attention from the recent price hikes, exacerbating the cost of living crisis. This is further evidencing the system’s strategy of using nationalism and racism to divert attention and perpetuate the exploitation of marginalised communities.
In order to drastically change the situation, a radical shift in immigration policy is needed. Immigrants and refugees will anyway keep coming to Cyprus due to wars, dictatorships, climate change and economic collapses.
Our collective anger should be directed towards the government and the European Union, as we demand:
-Equal employment rights for immigrants and refugees.
-An 8-hour workday, 5 day-week, totaling 40 hours, with a livable wage for all.
-Stringent penalties for employers violating labor laws.
-Universal housing access: rent control to ensure affordability, coupled with social housing for those in need.
-Active trade union involvement in organising immigrants, in living and working condition oversight and robust defense of their rights.
-Allocating European Union funds to ensure dignified living standards for asylum seekers.
-Repeal the Dublin 2 treaty, which currently curtails the movement of asylum seekers beyond their host country. This places the burden predominantly on economically disadvantaged southern countries (Cyprus, Greece, Italy), while wealthier northern European nations evade responsibility.
-The dismantling of Fortress Europe: diverting the billions allocated to Frontex towards the humane reception and comprehensive integration of refugees and migrants.
Common struggle of Cypriots and immigrants for decent living conditions for all
The desire for a dignified life is a universal aspiration. No one aspires to inhabit neighborhoods plagued by marginalisation and impoverishment. Likewise, no one wishes to endure the realities of living in illegality or grappling with poverty. The pursuit of a decent life is a shared fundamental need, irrespective of one’s ethnic background.
It’s crucial to recognize that marginalisation does not stem from immigrants and refugees, but by the ruling elites through their political parties. These policies systematically depress wages, privatize essential public services and exacerbate the cost of basic necessities.
In unison, we must strive to overturn these policies. The battle against these injustices requires collective action that bridges the gap between Cypriots and immigrants. This is a fight for accessible housing, decent employment opportunities, universal healthcare, quality education and a society designed to fulfill the needs of the people, rather than the interests of powerful capitalists.