An NGO director in Cyprus is challenging the notion that foreign rival gangs have desolated the historic centre of the capital, saying bad practices by some local employment agencies are often behind many disputes including a fatal incident last Sunday.
Following the killing of a young Indian male on Sunday night near a popular hangout in downtown Nicosia, shopkeepers on and near Ledras street say they are determined to put an end to criminal activity that create a poor and unsafe image for the old town.
The NGO director said foreign nationals are being preyed upon by certain elements within migrant communities, essentially their compatriots who are themselves being exploited by employment agencies
Police said four men were wanted in the case while local and state authorities including law enforcement agencies said they were stepping up efforts to combat crime in the area, where hundreds of foreign nationals live in crowded spaces and derelict houses.
But KISA director Doros Polycarpou says the area downtown had initially been abandoned by the state in 1974 and foreign nationals shouldn’t get a bad rap for other problems that the state has failed to address.
“When the migrants arrived, they filled a big gap, they largely revitalized the area,” he said on a news programme on Tuesday.
Visa debt and financial disputes
The NGO director also said foreign nationals are being preyed upon by certain elements within migrant communities, essentially their compatriots who are themselves being exploited by local employment agencies.
“This is an internal conflict amongst them, by way of promoting their chosen agent’s network, in an effort to exploit their compatriots,” he said.
Polycarpou argued that specific problems were not being addressed, such as the fact that the majority of these foreign nationals pay over €10,000 to middlemen who act on behalf of colleges and employment agencies on very questionable promises. Knews has also learned that many transcations take place without the issuance of receipts.
Previous reports revealed that many international students and migrant workers were being promised good jobs or in some cases even assured they could work without first securing a permit.
Knews understands the promises are often made by compatriots who act as middlemen on behalf of networks, with many foreign nationals who pay for a spot on the island ending up in debt and with little prospects of getting some of the money back.
Recent legislation proposals by the government are aimed at curtailing such phenomena by introducing tougher measures for colleges, but critics said a tough response with a lack of comprehensive reform remains a big issue in addressing immigration in the Republic of Cyprus.
Polycarpou, who described legislation as a positive step, said his office had provided law enforcement with names of locals involved in networks or colleges associated with bad practices, but the problem continues to persist even today he added.
He also said reports on downtown criminality and overcrowded houses were unfairly targeting foreign nationals who live within the walled city, where monthly rents have skyrocketed due to unauthorized multiple occupancy, adding that the issue was not being addressed properly by local municipal authorities.
“The city has the authority to shut down a building and prosecute someone who rents out a non-certified property for domicile,” Polycarpou said.
Local media said tens of foreign nationals live in houses in very poor conditions where they will often pay monthly rent between €100 and €200 per person. Additional reports pointed to a number of possible offences committed by landlords including city ordinance violations and tax evasion.
Nicosia Mayor Constantinos Yiorkadjis, who spoke after Sunday’s downtown incident, said the city had been calling for state support in order to hire more staff to patrol the area and carry out checks for ordinance violations.
Police with migrant background needed
But the KISA director said additional policing and inspections could not be effective unless community officers could establish a rapport with the local residents, the vast majority of whom were described as peaceful law-abiding residents.
“Our police force is the only one in all of Europe that doesn’t have officers who come from these communities, and I’m not saying we would need to hire citizens of Sri Lanka, we have Cypriot citizens with an immigrant background who could be in a position to help police with the creation of such a unit,” Polycarpou said.
Sunday “meetup” announced online a week earlier
While Polycarpou acknowledged that another fatality in February in old Nicosia was the result of an incident involving a drug dispute between foreign nationals, the NGO director said the latest killing was the result of a meetup that had been announced on the internet a week in advance when Indian males agreed to meet and settle their differences.
A similar incident took place in late May where a group of Indian males from Larnaca drove to Limassol and attacked an Indian man in broad daylight.
“Isn’t our police force in a position to have an Indian person who could keep an eye on social media and inform other officers?” Polycarpou asked. He then illustrated an example of someone writing a message to another person on the internet saying “we will be at this location, be there so we can settle this, and this is what they did last week,” he explained.
Police spokesperson Christos Andreou said law enforcement agents were prepared to work together with organized groups as well as private citizens in order to enforce law and order.