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We must not allow racism to flourish

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6 mins read

It appears we need a video posted on social media to be jolted out of our slumber at the latent animosity against migrants.

For somebody to feel emboldened to kick and punch a woman while on the ground holding a baby and declare he is untouchable is disturbing.

Such brazen or brutal attitudes are not cultivated overnight.

Part of the shock that resonated among Cypriots is the unrestrained violence the culprit displayed in the unprovoked attack as if he walked in a country that condoned such behaviour.

Cyprus does not have a proud track record in punishing hate crimes or going after either racists or women beaters.

There is complacency among the authorities in tackling racially motivated crimes or generally prejudice or bigoted behaviour.

The scenes captured on a mobile phone of the beating in Larnaca showed how casually the man adopted a ‘destroy’ mentality to an African woman helpless on the floor.

It is hard to believe the assault was not racially triggered or that the suspect also has issues with violence against women.

If the footage had not been posted on social media, it is more than likely it would have gone under the radar with nobody giving it much attention.

Although the woman filed a complaint to police about her attack, would the authorities have done something off their own bat otherwise?

A concerned Attorney General tweeted his awareness of the incident and assurances from the police chief that it was being investigated.

But what happened raises questions about how tolerant we are of the diversity of culture, inclusion, and our attitudes on migration.

Was the Larnaca incident the result of an unhinged, maladjusted individual taking the law into his own hands?

Or was it a manifestation of a more deeply rooted phenomenon poisoned by racism and the official mantra that we are being ‘overrun’ by asylum seekers?

Certainly, Cyprus is a small island under occupation with finite resources that can’t cope with large waves of irregular migrants.

Nevertheless, this is not an excuse to dehumanise the issue and blame the outsiders for all society’s ills.

Blame somebody

Naturally, during a cost-of-living crisis where people struggle, there’s a tendency to pin the blame on somebody or some group.

Scapegoating allows politicians to deflect their responsibility and poor decision-making.

Negative messaging about migrants only cultivates a climate of fear and suspicion where people blame foreigners for high rents, lack of housing or poor public and health services.

The government hardly misses an opportunity to give the impression that migration is wildly out of control, proclaiming that asylum seekers make up 5% of the population.

Loudly trumpeting such statistics paints a narrative where the mood music is bleak, creating a ‘them and us’ mentality that feeds on insidious stereotyping.

Fertile ground is cultivated for toxic headlines about reception camps riddled with AIDS and hepatitis.

Nobody bats an eyelid to such derogatory stories or the general lack of respect for migrants who contribute to society and love this country that gave them a home.

Cyprus enjoyed a reputation for being welcoming to visitors and a friendly face of hospitality.

But the government, by default, has nurtured a siege mentality with its fervour for building barbed wire barricades across the Green Line and around the Nicosia migrant reception centre.

Reinforcing areas along the ceasefire line that complement the barricades placed by the invading Turks is tinged with irony on an island that supposedly has no hard border.

Agreed, Cyprus is facing an unprecedented situation with which it is ill-equipped to cope but showing compassion for refugees is a cost-free benefit.

Arguably, Turkey is trying to destabilise the Republic by encouraging irregular migrant flows, but that is no excuse to deny dignity to refugees or asylum seekers.

Cypriots also had to build lives from scratch in foreign countries – they were not always welcomed and were often marginalised.

Most powerful nations are built on the backs of immigrants who do the dirty jobs for less money and longer hours.

Integrating migrants and allowing them to succeed and flourish is how countries like America were made.

Hopefully, the shocking scenes in Larnaca were an isolated incident, not an indication of how inward-looking we have become.

The public outcry from what transpired is a healthy sign that Cypriot society is not indifferent to women-beating, prejudiced bullyboy thugs.