by George Kakouris
Arriving in Cyprus on Monday, and heading to Nicosia, I saw queues of military trucks returning empty to their bases. Later in the afternoon, I learned that these trucks had been used to carry asylum seekers who, until recently, had been trapped in the overcrowded Pournara reception center, a Brussels-funded operation, unsuitable for long-term living. As it turned out, at least on the basis of official information, the asylum seekers were badly transported to the new center that was built in the area of Limnes in Menogeia when cases of the omicron variant were detected at Pournara. The new center, as Kathimerini wrote in its Sunday edition referring to an article in Politis, is ready, but like Pournara it is not considered suitable for lengthy stays.
the government's lack of a coherent and rational approach to immigration is hampered by rhetoric that promotes fear and discrimination toward applicants
The hasty transfer is somewhat of a mystery as the Limnes center is ready and, even without meeting all the criteria, could have been used to reduce the overpopulation in Pournara. Which, of course, would have reduced the risk of the coronavirus spreading among the people who remain prisoners of the Cypriot state's timeless inability to proceed in a coordinated manner with the influx of refugees.
Once again we are running, after a holiday, to fix problems that could have been avoided with slightly better planning. But as we move people from one place of detention to another, the question that colleague Panagiotis Hatziapostolou asked last week remains unanswered: is the government trying to discourage the arrival of asylum seekers by creating bad conditions for those already here?
The response by the Ministry of Interior lacked any substance and failed to address the issue in its entirety. It merely focused on the details of whether or not the government had requested funding before the construction of the Limnes center.
But the logic of prevention through ensuring ... bad conditions is not something new for the Republic of Cyprus. Some years ago, the attempt to make it difficult for third-country nationals to cross the Green Line was reportedly aimed at informing relatives and friends of immigrants from African countries that they are not welcome in Cyprus.
Beyond any bona fide efforts to better manage increased migratory flows, and beyond discouraging practices, the government's lack of a coherent and rational approach to immigration is hampered by rhetoric that promotes fear and discrimination toward applicants. Statements that (involuntarily or voluntarily) characterized the presence of children with immigrant backgrounds in Cyprus, speak of a change in our culture and encourage and magnify the fears of citizens. Managing increased migration is a problem that affects people, whom we must find a way to help or return to their country without being mistreated. But the way we handle it, using panic, moving from crisis to crisis, always blaming others and without any recognition of what we can or cannot do, results in these people becoming collateral damage and turning them into a sort of unwanted merchandise that we transport by truck from one detention center to another in the middle of winter.
[This article was translated from its original Greek]