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20 July, 2024
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'Dangerous populism'

Christodoulides' tough stance on buffer zone migrants raises concerns

Marina Economides

Marina Economides

Last month, Nikos Christodoulides opened a tough front with the United Nations, raising questions about his intentions and concerns about the political implications of his bravado. He suggested that the Republic of Cyprus does not take lessons from anyone on migration issues. "We have proven many times both our sensitivity on this issue and how we handle it," he said, adding, "It is possibly easy for some people who are far away from Cyprus to make statements." The President's angry reaction was prompted by the concern publicly expressed by the UNHCR for the safety of 28 asylum seekers, including children, who were in the Dead Zone. The UNHCR described the situation as unacceptable, citing inhumane living conditions as they were exposed to the Cyprus heatwave, living in shacks without basic hygiene.

The President's statements had worrying political and moral implications. A president who claims to seek a just solution to the Cyprus problem within the framework of a bizonal, bicommunal federation appeared not to treat the whole island as a single area of the Republic of Cyprus and seemingly considered the Dead Zone to be a border. A president whose credibility on his side of the Cyprus problem has long been in doubt has chosen to open a front with the United Nations. He has taken on Colin Stewart, from whom tomorrow he will be asking for support for what is happening in Pyla, Strovilia, and Ayios Dometios. The most worrying aspect of all this, however, is the moral dimension.

The President made it clear that he does not take lessons from anyone and that the sensitivities of the Republic of Cyprus are well known around the migration issue.

The UNHCR, which subsequently condemned Cyprus' actions, did not ask the Republic of Cyprus to detain the asylum seekers. It asked the government to implement the EU acquis and respect its obligations under international and European law. In short, to ensure effective access to asylum procedures and adequate reception conditions. It asked for their request to be examined and either approved or rejected. Instead, the government decided that any action would set an ugly precedent, resulting in the police arresting those who fled and taking them back to the Dead Zone, effectively ignoring their request. No one is downplaying the migration problem, and no one is attempting to sweep it under the carpet. But why does a state governed by the rule of law consciously choose to behave inhumanely? Why should it break the law in the face of such a deplorable situation? Obviously, the President of the Republic knows the audience he is addressing. Apart from the section of society that finds such tactics offensive and inhumane, there is a large section of society that acquiesces to all this. There is also that part of society that does not want to see a single immigrant in its country.

But the bottom line is not what society thinks. It is not what policy it approves of or whether it agrees with the president's handling of it. It is about which audience the president will become more likable to. The bottom line is that there is legality, the international conventions governing the refugee issue, but above all a moral code that a political figure such as the President of the Republic cannot disregard or neglect.

The President made it clear that he does not take lessons from anyone and that the sensitivities of the Republic of Cyprus are well known around the migration issue. But before he shakes his finger at those criticizing him, he should remember that for small countries like Cyprus to survive in a world where major crises constantly arise, this will only be done by applying international law. And that we must be the first to apply international and European law, which for our problem we are demanding that everyone else apply. Anything else is considered hypocrisy and dangerous populism.

[This op-ed was translated from its Greek original and edited for clarity]

Cyprus  |  asylum  |  migration  |  immigration

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