Dial down the bigotry and hate

2 mins read

There should be little surprise in government that several years of negative messaging about the irregular migrant ‘tidal wave’ transcended into extremist violence in Chlorakas.

What the politicians failed to grasp, and the local media played down, is that what has transpired over the last week is some of the worst racially-motivated public disorder the island has witnessed in peacetime.

The government was lukewarm in its condemnation, but it’s not a good look for a country relying on foreign investment and international labour to drive the economy into a production monster.

Using the ‘foreign threat’ as political mileage has worked through the ages to win votes and stir nationalistic sentiment.

When things are bleak, what better than to single out the migrant scapegoat when wages are low, good jobs are hard to find, and the housing market is beyond the reach of first-time buyers.

Cyprus argues that it is ill-equipped to manage the surge in migrants that it has witnessed over the past five years.

It doesn’t have the welfare structure or the ability to process, manage or care for migrants properly.

In short, there is no welfare state or any zeal to provide a safety net for the impoverished, no matter whether they are Cypriot or otherwise.

If you treat migrants with disdain and label them as a problem, how long before the society they have joined begins to resent them?

Besides the numbers being deemed unmanageable for a small island that endures military occupation of its northern third, how far has the government gone to integrate those with a legal right to be here?

Authorities are right to go after gangs who traffick in human misery and exploit those desperate to escape hardship or persecution.

Migrants are not here to steal our jobs; they don’t want handouts; they want an opportunity to contribute and feel safe.

In an ideal world, families wouldn’t risk their lives to cross the sea in unsafe boats to begin a new life with nothing except the mistrust and suspicion of the host country.

There are no easy solutions, but the government must show more sensitivity in addressing the migrant issue.

Although it says it wants to help those given refugee or protection status, its rhetoric is about sending migrants back as quickly as they come.

Dirty jobs

Without foreign labour, the Cyprus economy wouldn’t function; it needs people to do the ‘dirty jobs’ that Cypriots don’t want to do.

All major economies rely on migrant workers to do the hard graft for lower wages; university graduates don’t plough the fields, dig ditches or work on the assembly line.

A cause for concern is that extremists are hijacking the political agenda, turning to racist-motivated violence that could ferment widespread unrest.

Once the ground is conducive to encouraging conflict between migrant and anti-migrant groups, then the police have unprecedented civil disorder to contend with.

People don’t want to visit a holiday island with race riots and vigilante thuggery on the streets.

Cypriots are tired of the political expediency that has divided their island; they suffer a cost-of-living crunch and inflation eating away at their unchanged salary.

Many are angry and frustrated and are told that illegal migrants are exploiting a system that isn’t working for them.

Add political voices reinforcing that message, and you get emboldened thugs kicking down doors and smashing vehicles that belong to non-Cypriots.

When you start rolling out barbed across a war-torn country to keep the migrants out, there is a subliminal message that Cyprus is under siege.

Cyprus will never resemble a hippy commune where we all get along in harmony with our neighbour, but we can dial down the hate and prevent it from poisoning society.

Not forgetting that Cypriots were at the sharp end of racism when they first emigrated to the UK.

Being tough on irregular migration and stopping the people smugglers from putting lives at risk for profit is commendable and required.

But that’s no excuse for racist political overtones that create a hostile environment for bigots to thrive and conquer.

Arguably, suspicion of outsiders is a human survival instinct, but as we evolve, we should understand better – apparently not.