Approximately 21 people have been arrested by Cyprus authorities due to a clash between anti-immigrant protestors and migrants or refugees. Hundreds of people, mainly from the far-right and racist National People’s Front (ELAM), came to the streets for the march in Limassol; however, it turned violent when Asian delivery drivers were assaulted, and stores owned by migrants were destroyed. Some protesters held a banner that read ” Refugees not welcome” and chanted “Cyprus is Greek.” The violence continued after hundreds of Syrians also made a peaceful counterprotest. Around five foreign nationals were injured, and a group of Syrian men also said they were surprised as some police officers did nothing to stop the violence and racism towards foreigners. On one side, this highlights a growing issue of xenophobia and violence within the country towards immigrants by some far-right groups. On the other side, the clash also shows a disagreement of the migration policies in the country.
The local authorities have struggled to take measures against the increasing racist attacks on Greek Cypriots in several years. Cyprus President Nikos Christodoulides condemned the ‘images of shame,’ claiming that the violence was the product of a group of criminals and had no real connection to the migration situation in Cyprus. This is not the first time such incidents have happened, as since 2016, around 215 out of 413 racist attacks or incidents have been pending in the courts, which shows deep challenges for Cyprus in its immigrant flows.
In 2022, the European Union Commission and agencies signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with Cyprus regarding a comprehensive Action Plan on migration management. The MoU aims to strengthen coherence and coordination for priority and migration management process in the reception of newly arrived migrants to asylum procedure, integration, and return. As a member of the EU, the union has a common security policy; however, sometimes the perception of the threats may vary, but the need for more protection of the EU’s external borders is the most crucial. However, noting that these incidents still occur, the failure to implement an effective migration policy may undermine the idea of European integration and further benefit the far right to promote their anti-immigrant sentiments.
The EU Data shows that Cyprus has the highest number of first-time asylum applications. While the average of EU migrants and refugees is approximately one percent, for a small country like Cyprus, they estimated that around six percent of migrants and refugees comprise the population. Cyprus stated that asylum requests that have been granted keep dropping, as in 2022, only 568 files out of 21,565 registered applications. The unprocessed cases rose to 29,715 applications in December 2022, while around 6,805 applicants were still pending. Not only lack of resources, but people believe the low political will also make it harder for asylum seekers to register. These challenges raise cases of unregistered or illegal migrants in Cyprus, and some locals also view the disproportionately high number of asylum seekers and registered refugees as raising serious concerns. The newly elected president, Nikos Christodoulides, affirmed he will fasten the processing of asylum applications.
Previously, Cyprus, along with other EU member states such as Italy, Spain, Greece, and Malta, called for a guarantee of fair distribution of responsibility for migration. These Southern countries of Europe have been major destinations for transit for asylum seekers, thus, illegal entry through the sea poses more risks for these migrants and national security. In 2022, illegal crossing into the European Union, whether by land or sea, surged by 64% compared to the previous year, reaching the highest levels since the refugee crisis in 2016. There was also a significant uptick in formal asylum requests, with approximately 1 million applications submitted, representing a 50% increase. This still does not include millions of Ukrainians who sought refuge in the EU due to the Russian invasion and now reside there under temporary protection status.
Nationally, in 2013, the Council of Ministers proposed an adaptation and renewal of the National Action Plan, which had no reference to social cohesion participation or interaction with the local community. Unfortunately, little effort has been made to ensure an adaptation of an improved plan aiming at the social integration of migrants until now. Formulating new policies and fully implementing the good integration of migrants will change the politicians’ and civilian perceptions and treatments of non-EU immigrants.
Refugee crisis in Cyprus
Each year, tens of thousands of migrants, escaping war and persecution, embark on dangerous journeys to Europe, hoping to find safety and improved economic opportunities. However, the absence of secure and lawful pathways for refugees and asylum seekers can result in tragic outcomes, including clashes between a small group of communities and asylum seekers. The high proportion of refugees in Cyprus crowded the refugee camps, resulting in higher security risks, such as more poverty and criminalities. The locals have also vacated a property complex as hundreds of migrants lived there even without electricity and running water. The inability and unwillingness to share responsibilities and unity between the countries and the European Union makes it even harder to track the trafficking of migrants, death, and effective return policy.
According to the Migrant Integration Policy Index in 2020, Cypurs scored 41 out of 100 points on the MIPEX Scale for promoting integration. Although Cyprus is developing its weakness in its integration policy for immigrants by providing basic rights, they face greater obstacles than opportunities. The signals that Cyprus has yet to implement good immigration with integrations as non-EU immigrants still do not have a long-term future in Cyprus and other obstacles to participate in the labor market, economy, etc.
Not only efforts made by the EU by coordinated projects to address migrants’ social inclusion but Cyprus should not solely depend on the EU for such initiatives or implementation. Cooperation and coordination of civilians, government, public sectors, education, and media will create sustainable programs and actions to support non-EU immigrants’ social integration into Cyprus.