Overcrowding leads to refugee clashes and fires in Cyprus – The Organization for World Peace
Clashes broke out on Friday between migrants at the overcrowded Pournaras reception center in Cyprus. According to Al Jazeera, refugees from Nigeria and the Democratic Republic of Congo – two of the main groups of migrants on the island – threw stones and other objects at each other, and police reported that fires had started at the center reception, 22 km west of Nicosia. Firefighters managed to put out the fire, but clashes continued throughout the day. Many asylum seekers were forced to flee the facility in panic. 20 people were injured.
“I follow what is happening in Pournaras with disappointment and anger. This is how every Cypriot citizen feels today,” said presidential candidate Averof Neophytou. “Our country has taken on far more responsibilities and obligations than it deserves. And the least we expect is basic respect. We will continue to offer hospitality and protection to those who really need it. But there are limits that have been crossed. And our tolerance will be null towards those who do not respect the laws, the order and especially the citizens of the country which welcomes them.
Neophytou’s assertion that ‘every’ Cypriot is concerned about the behavior of migrants seems to have some truth to it. The island’s natural residents feel unsafe, reporting crime and drug use among the refugees. Local citizens even staged a protest against irregular migrants in July.
Concerns stem from Cyprus’s struggle to manage the flow of migrants from Syria and Africa: the island’s two facilities are sheltering well beyond their capacity. Currently, around 70,000 asylum seekers live in the country, of which 17,000 arrived this year alone through illegal channels. However, authorities estimate that the number of refugees could be twice as high.
The Interior Ministry, which is charged with the challenge of housing these people, appealed to UN officials for help earlier this month, but the appeal was unable to prevent the Purnaras disaster. Following the clashes, the ministry’s permanent secretary argued that the government had no options regarding the influx of irregular migrants.
Cyprus’s problems are unique among European countries that host refugees. Most asylum seekers arrive on the island through a buffer zone that separates it from the area controlled by Turkey. Sending illegal migrants back to this northern region on the grounds that they passed through a “first safe country” would suggest that Cyprus recognizes the occupied buffer zone as an independent state, which it does not. The best way to regulate the influx of migrants would be to cooperate with the Turkish Cypriots by allowing the refugees to cross the border. A more controlled border crossing would limit overcrowding, potentially decreasing the risk of further clashes.
Overcrowding in reception centers poses a high risk of conflict, but even if Cyprus can afford it, only a limited number of people can benefit from assistance. Therefore, the government must urgently seek better strategies to deal with the influx of asylum seekers in order to avoid further clashes. External assistance will help Cyprus better cope with the many new people who have arrived.