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

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.

News
Denny Miller in 1959 remake of Tarzan, the Ape Man
people
Arts and Entertainment
Cheryl despairs during the arena auditions
tvX Factor review: Drama as Cheryl and Simon spar over girl band

News
Piers Morgan tells Scots they might not have to suffer living on the same island as him if they vote ‘No’ to Scottish Independence
news
News
i100Exclusive interview with the British analyst who helped expose Bashar al-Assad's use of Sarin gas
PROMOTED VIDEO
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Sport
Angel Di Maria celebrates his first goal for Manchester United against QPR
Football4-0 victory is team's first win under new manager Louis van Gaal
Arts and Entertainment
art
News
newsIn short, yes
Arts and Entertainment
Rob James-Collier, who plays under-butler Thomas Barrow, admitted to suffering sleepless nights over the Series 5 script
tv'Thomas comes right up to the abyss', says the actor
Arts and Entertainment
Calvin Harris claimed the top spot in this week's single charts
music
Sport
BoxingVideo: The incident happened in the very same ring as Tyson-Holyfield II 17 years ago
News
Groundskeeper Willie has backed Scottish independence in a new video
people
Arts and Entertainment
The Doctor poses the question of whether we are every truly alone in 'Listen'
tvReview: Possibly Steven Moffat's most terrifying episode to date
News
i100
Life and Style
Cara Delevigne at the TopShop Unique show during London Fashion Week
fashion
News
The life-sized tribute to Amy Winehouse was designed by Scott Eaton and was erected at the Stables Market in Camden
peopleBut quite what the singer would have made of her new statue...
Sport
England's Andy Sullivan poses with his trophy and an astronaut after winning a trip to space
sport
News
peopleThe actress has agreed to host the Met Gala Ball - but not until 2015
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Teaching Assistant for KS1 & KS2 Huddersfield

£50 - £65 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: We are looking for flexible and i...

Teaching Assistant for KS1 & KS2 Huddersfield

£50 - £65 per annum: Randstad Education Leeds: We are looking for flexible and...

Primary Teaching Supply

£130 - £160 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: Qualified KS2 Supply Teacher r...

Year 1/2 Teacher

£130 - £160 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: Qualified KS1 Teacher required,...

Day In a Page

These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam
'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

Exclusive extract from Janis Winehouse's poignant new memoir
Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

The Imitation Game, film review
England and Roy Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption in Basel

England and Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption

Welbeck double puts England on the road to Euro 2016
Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Pictures removed from public view as courts decide ownership
‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

Donatella Versace at New York Fashion Week
The fall of Rome? Cash-strapped Italy accused of selling its soul to the highest bidder

The fall of Rome?

Italy's fears that corporate-sponsored restoration projects will lead to the Disneyfication of its cultural heritage
Glasgow girl made good

Glasgow girl made good

Kelly Macdonald was a waitress when she made Trainspotting. Now she’s taking Manhattan
Sequins ahoy as Strictly Come Dancing takes to the floor once more

Sequins ahoy as Strictly takes to the floor once more

Judy Murray, Frankie Bridge and co paired with dance partners
Wearable trainers and other sporty looks

Wearable trainers and other sporty looks

Alexander Wang pumps it up at New York Fashion Week
The landscape of my imagination

The landscape of my imagination

Author Kate Mosse on the place that taught her to tell stories