Christofias: migrant debate is artificial and stupid

THE DEBATE over illegal immigrants and asylum seekers is a manufactured one and “stupid”, President Demetris Christofias said yesterday.

“The rhetoric which seeks to pit Cypriots against foreigners is alien to us as a nation. It is artificial and stupid,” Christofias said.

The President made the comments as more protests were heard about the “lavish” treatment given to asylum seekers and the state assistance they are entitled to.

One such voice was DIKO deputy Zacharias Koulias, who accused asylum seekers of exploiting the system to collect fat cheques.

“Many of them even go on holidays abroad…and then they come back to Cyprus just to collect their benefits, paid for by the taxpayer,” he said during a live TV talk show.

Koulias was trading barbs with Larnaca mayor Andreas Moiseos, who was asked on the same show to discuss what measures his municipality was taking to tackle the growing number of asylum seekers in the coastal town.

The DIKO MP said that government statistics on the numbers of asylum seekers were misleading. He claimed that the 2,000 persons listed as political refugees in Larnaca were in fact only the “family heads,” and that many more received benefits as dependents.

“They are the foster children of Sylikiotis and Charalambous,” Koulias quipped, referring to the ministers of the Interior and Labour.

Responding, Labour Minister Soteroulla Charalambous said that Cyprus had an obligation under international conventions to protect asylum seekers.

Meanwhile the Interior Ministry has decided to find ways to transfer over 2,000 political refugees from Larnaca to other parts of Cyprus, where employment opportunities are much higher.

A special ministerial committee met at the ministry on Wednesday night, in the presence of Interior Minister Neoclis Sylikiotis.

The committee later announced that even though there were no illegal immigrants in Larnaca, there were still around 2,100 political refugees – mainly Palestinians and Kurds – who were not only living in ghetto-like conditions, appointed to just one neighbourhood, they are not finding work, thus increasing their demand for state aid.

Sylikiotis said the refugees should be transferred to areas where there are bigger employment opportunities, as the opposite means they can’t work and will have to receive benefits.

The minister decided to appoint an ad hoc committee, which will take over resolving their problems and arrange their transportation to other more appropriate towns.

“I put the facts forward to restore all these lies that are being cultivated all this time,” said Sylikiotis. “For these neo-Nazi conditions to exist and all these lies to be cultivated, I feel there are masterminds behind it and unfortunately they are both in the media and politicians, and they cultivate all these lies repeatedly, regarding the benefits, the employment opportunities and so on.”

He added: “There are no illegal immigrants in Larnaca; there are recognised political refugees. And they are facing serious problems; even after being recognised, they can’t find work, due to the crisis. This increases political refugees receiving benefits.”

The minister said the refugees were ready to participate in community programmes and willing to be transferred elsewhere.

“We are already in discussions with relevant state services, Welfare Office and police and so on, to see how we can create special programmes,” said Sylikiotis.