Violence against Cyprus’s migrant workers trails in the wake of country's economic collapse

Immigrants are increasingly the target of attacks on the stricken holiday island, writes Charlotte McDonald-Gibson in Trachoni


A short drive from the beach clubs of Limassol, through rows of picture-perfect orange groves, stands a rundown farm building where dirty clothes hang out to dry next to a broken tractor.

In the living room, a white toy rabbit clutching a bouquet of red roses sits on a table – an effort by the 15 Egyptian farmhands who live here to make their crowded quarters look homely.

But try as they might, there is little they can do to disguise the petrol stains streaking the walls in the bedroom.

One night in February, a group of Cypriot youths hurled a Molotov cocktail through the window. As the flames licked across the polyester blankets, the migrant workers leapt from their bunk beds and fled. Medhat Bekhet, a 22-year-old from upper Egypt, barely noticed that he was on fire. “All the petrol got on my leg but I kept on running because I was very afraid,” he says.

The young Egyptians are here to pick fruit for €21 (£18) a day. They have work permits and are doing jobs the Cypriots do not want. But as the island faces soaring unemployment and a recession, there are fears that people are looking for someone to blame, and migrant workers prove an easy target.

“It’s like what happened in Greece, there are some fanatic people that start to attack the foreigners,” said Malak George, a youth worker with the local Coptic Christian church.

Cyprus does have a far-right party the National Popular Front, or Ethniko Laiko Metopo (Elam). It has links to the Greek neo-fascist Golden Dawn party, which saw support rocket after the economic crisis.  In Cyprus’s parliamentary elections in 2011, Elam barely polled 1 per cent of the vote, but already it is trying to exploit the anger Cypriots feel at the harsh bailout agreed with the European Union.

Fiona Mullen, an analyst with Sapienta Economics, saw Elam leaflets scattered on the ground outside two banks in Nicosia, indicating that party members had been canvassing support among depositors queuing to withdraw their money. A protest in the capital on the day the banks reopened attracted about 100 Elam supporters.

Ms Mullen thinks Elam will not find the kind of support Golden Dawn enjoys in Greece. “I’m not saying it cannot happen, but if it’s going to happen, it is at a much earlier stage than it was there.” But Doros Polykarpou, the director of a support network for migrants, the Movement for Equality, Support and Anti-Racism, is more pessimistic. He lists a string of recent attacks against migrants: a Molotov cocktail thrown at a family home near Limassol; a Bulgarian woman attacked in her house; another fire-bombing at an office of the Kurdish party. “The Cypriots are concerned now with the problems of the troika and the banks.

“If, in the next three or four months, they get disappointed by the government, part of the voters of this government, they are the ones who are likely to support neo-Nazi groups,” he says.

Cyprus has one of the highest number of non-native residents in the EU, with 18 per cent of the population born outside the country. This is partly because of the number of expatriates, but also from the flood of cheap foreign labour during the boom years. Now, as the jobs run dry, many migrants are left not only without work and surviving on minuscule benefits, but dealing with growing accusations that they are to blame.

“It is very racist, I’m not afraid to say this. If I go to any office, 90 per cent of the people on the counter react very badly,” says Malkanthi Papageorgiou, 50, who left Sri Lanka in 1997. “With this financial crisis, they think that we take their money and send it to Sri Lanka.”

But the opposite is true: Ms Papageorgiou is relying on funds her brother sends her from Sri Lanka as she struggles to support herself, her unemployed son, and her Cypriot husband, who has Alzheimer’s disease. “I am like a beggar here,” she says, tears pooling in her eyes.

And a government that once welcomed foreign workers is now actively trying to pressure them to leave, says Mr Polykarpou.

Ali Jan Rahimi, 37, is a refugee from Afghanistan. He recently lost his job as an electrician, and has registered at the labour office. But one potential employer bluntly told him the opening was only for Cypriots. The labour office was unsympathetic. “The lady is very mean,” he says. “She asks: ‘Why did you come to Cyprus? When are you leaving? There are no jobs here.’”

Mr Bekhet also wants to get back to work. He spent 12 days in hospital being treated for severe burns, and a month later his leg is still swollen, the skin peeling around his foot. He does not appear angry at the Cypriots who attacked him. His mind is focused only on his parents and three sisters back home. “I am very upset about what happened – I’ve lost money for my family,” he says.

ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Bryan Cranston as Walter White, in the acclaimed series 'Breaking Bad'
Those who were encouraged to walk in a happy manner remembered less negative words
footballChelsea 6 Maribor 0: Blues warm up for Premier League showdown with stroll in Champions League - but Mourinho is short of strikers
Arts and Entertainment
Princess Olga in 'You Can't Get the Staff'
tvReview: The anachronistic aristocrats, it seemed, were just happy to have some attention
Renee Zellweger as Bridget Jones
Life and Style

Board creates magnetic field to achieve lift

There have been various incidents of social media users inadvertently flouting the law

Life and Style
Stack ‘em high?: quantity doesn’t always trump quality, as Friends of the Earth can testify
techThe proliferation of online petitions allows us to register our protests at the touch of a button. But do they change anything?
Bourgogne wine maker Laboure-Roi vice president Thibault Garin (L) offers the company's 2013 Beaujolais Nouveau wine to the guest in the wine spa at the Hakone Yunessun spa resort facilities in Hakone town, Kanagawa prefecture, some 100-kilometre west of Tokyo
CSKA Moscow celebrate after equalising with a late penalty
footballCSKA Moscow 2 Manchester City 2: Premier League champions let two goal lead slip in Russia
Sudan, the last male northern white rhino
environmentThe death of a white northern rhino in Kenya has left the species with a single male. These are the other species on the brink
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

IT Project Manager

Competitive: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client based in Chelmsford a...

Business Intelligence Specialist - work from home

£40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: An established and growing IT Consultancy fir...

Business Intelligence Specialist - work from home

£40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: An established and growing IT Consultancy fir...

IT Manager

£40000 - £45000 per annum + pension, healthcare,25 days: Ashdown Group: An est...

Day In a Page

Indiana serial killer? Man arrested for murdering teenage prostitute confesses to six other murders - and police fear there could be many more

A new American serial killer?

Police fear man arrested for murder of teen prostitute could be responsible for killing spree dating back 20 years
Sweetie, the fake 10-year-old girl designed to catch online predators, claims her first scalp

Sting to trap paedophiles may not carry weight in UK courts

Computer image of ‘Sweetie’ represented entrapment, experts say
Fukushima nuclear crisis: Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on - and may never return home

Return to Fukushima – a land they will never call home again

Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on from nuclear disaster
Wildlife Photographer of the Year: Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize

Wildlife Photographer of the Year

Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize
Online petitions: Sign here to change the world

Want to change the world? Just sign here

The proliferation of online petitions allows us to register our protests at the touch of a button. But do they change anything?
Ed Sheeran hits back after being labelled too boring to headline festivals

'You need me, I don’t need you'

Ed Sheeran hits back after being labelled too boring to headline festivals
How to Get Away with Murder: Shonda Rhimes reinvents the legal drama

How to Get Away with Murder

Shonda Rhimes reinvents the legal drama
A cup of tea is every worker's right

Hard to swallow

Three hospitals in Leicester have banned their staff from drinking tea and coffee in public areas. Christopher Hirst explains why he thinks that a cuppa is every worker's right
Which animals are nearly extinct?

Which animals are nearly extinct?

Conservationists in Kenya are in mourning after the death of a white northern rhino, which has left the species with a single male. These are the other species on the brink
12 best children's shoes

Perfect for leaf-kicking: 12 best children's shoes

Find footwear perfect to keep kids' feet protected this autumn
Anderlecht vs Arsenal: Gunners' ray of light Aaron Ramsey shines again

Arsenal’s ray of light ready to shine again

Aaron Ramsey’s injury record has prompted a club investigation. For now, the midfielder is just happy to be fit to face Anderlecht in the Champions League
Comment: David Moyes' show of sensitivity thrown back in his face by former Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson

Moyes’ show of sensitivity thrown back in his face... by Ferguson

Manchester United legend tramples on successor who resisted criticising his inheritance
Two super-sized ships have cruised into British waters, but how big can these behemoths get?

Super-sized ships: How big can they get?

Two of the largest vessels in the world cruised into UK waters last week
British doctors on brink of 'cure' for paralysis with spinal cord treatment

British doctors on brink of cure for paralysis

Sufferers can now be offered the possibility of cure thanks to a revolutionary implant of regenerative cells