12° Nicosia,
27 May, 2024
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We are all responsible

The tragic tale of eleven souls being exploited by our very own

Eleni Xenou

Eleni Xenou

Eleven people crammed into one apartment, each paying between 150 to 200 euros in rent, all to live stacked together in appalling conditions. The apartment, located in a dismal building with hazardous areas, offered no alternative for these individuals. Their choice was paying exorbitant amounts for this dismal living space or having no roof over their heads. It didn't matter if they were legal or not, their country of origin, or the circumstances that brought them here in hopes of a better future. What mattered was that eleven people endured these abysmal conditions, and the owner of this apartment apparently had no issue with it, as collecting rent was evidently a higher priority.

It's okay on our conscience that some people rent their hovels to these people because we have the mindset that this is how they are "conditioned," since they live in shacks in their own countries.

And because no one else apart from the exploited would rent such an apartment in this awful building, the owner saw fit to cram them all together to increase the rent. And one day, the Police decided to inspect because, they claimed, they had information that illegal immigrants were residing there – not because eleven people were living in one apartment, nor because an owner was willing to rent this dismal apartment in this dismal building to eleven people, but because these eleven people were illegal immigrants. So, at six in the morning, members of the Immigration Service knocked on the door of the apartment for inspection, and two of the eleven people, fearing arrest, chose to jump from the window. One was killed, the other critically injured. The child who died was only 19 years old. A child who came for a better tomorrow, and we, after tolerating his cramming into the dismal apartment in the dismal building with ten other immigrants, led him to his death.

But why are we to blame, someone might ask? Of course, we are to blame; the responsibility lies with all of us. Because when someone believes they can cram eleven people into a dismal apartment in a dismal building simply because these people have no other options, obviously, the responsibility lies with all of us, who instead of condemning these attitudes, choose to perpetuate them, treating immigrants as second-class citizens. "Capable" only of "serving" us, bringing food to our doorstep, farming our fields, building our towers, so we can gain more money at their expense. Some, for instance, convert their shops in old Nicosia into homes, without a single window, and rent them to immigrant families, and we pretend not to see the exploitation and inhumanity. It's okay on our conscience that some people rent their hovels to these people because we have the mindset that this is how they are "conditioned," since they live in shacks in their own countries. Just as it's okay to give them two or three extra jobs without pay because they should be grateful that we are "saving" them from their "misery," and it's okay to seek credit when we treat them well because this attitude confirms the position of power that we think we hold. And, of course, it's okay to separate foreigners into those who "serve" us and those who "fund" us, so we bow to the latter and disdain the former. And if in the meantime, a 19-year-old child is killed trying to escape from us, we pretend to be ignorant to continue being the lords and ladies, thus giving "substance" to our existence, bankrupted of any value.

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

Cyprus  |  immigrants  |  migration  |  immigration  |  crisis

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