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KISA – Action for Equality, Support, Antiracism notes that the Minister of Interior Socrates Hasikos, has not only failed to withdraw his recent statements made during a seminar (28.11.2013 – video [i]) and the joint press release of six civil society organizations (29.11.2013 – text [ii]), but has instead proceeded with further aggressive statements regarding the issues of migration, asylum, protection of human rights and the role of civil society. KISA notes once again that both with his recent and earlier statements, the Minister of Interior continues to undermine democratic dialogue and social cohesion.

During two appearances on state TV (CyBC 1), ”Apo Mera Se Mera” (3.12.2013 – video [iii]) and ”Eponimos” (17.12.2013 – video [iv]), the Minister of Interior repeatedly stated that “we have 250.000 foreign nationals in Cyprus, either European citizens or third country nationals, a number that corresponds to the 1/4 of the total population”, adding that “an entire industry has been set up to exploit these people”, which includes lawyers and Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs).

KISA categorically rejects the statements of the Minister of Interior, as inaccurate and misleading. At the same time it reports that the Minister ignores or even worst tries to hide his own responsibilities for the real exploitation of immigrants, which is the result of the non-transparent and abusive immigration policy and practices followed by the Ministry and the relevant departments he presides over. Moreover, the Minister avoids any reference to the private recruitment agencies, which are one of the main actors behind the exploitation of immigrants in Cyprus, as well as the corruption and abuse of power witnessed in the public sector.

KISA doesn’t question that there has been mismanagement of immigration and asylum cases, or even exploitation of persons by certain law firms. KISA itself has reported several such cases to the competent authorities of the Republic of Cyprus. However, KISA considers as unacceptable the fact that the Minister of Interior refers in a very general and abstract way to law firms and by doing so stigmatizes an entire professional sector, which unfortunately doesn’t seem to be able to respond through the professional body representing it, the Cypriot Lawyers Association. In addition, KISA publicly invites the Minister of Interior, the Cypriot Lawyers Association and the Attorney General to move against law firms involved in such cases of exploitation, rather than make general statements harming the reputation of lawyers dealing with immigration issues, asylum and human rights. Through these statements, the Minister is essentially aiming to discourage the legal representation of immigrants and refugees from notable lawyers and basically to reproduce a vicious cycle of exploitation services in relation to the legal defence of immigrants and refugees.

KISA also considers the statements made by the Minister of Interior on civil society as highly unacceptable and completely unreasonable. The Minister continues to refer in a general and abstract way to “organizations that instead of advocating human rights have become engines for the production of human rights”, refusing to substantiate the accusations and to state publicly and forthrightly which organizations he refers to.

At the same time, he selectively quotes or even distorts tatements of civil society organizations, in conformity with the populism that characterizes his speeches. While during the past few weeks, several announcements and reports were published by news agencies and civil society organisations, the Minister, as well as specific journalists of state TV (CyBC 1), try to downplay the overall reaction and public outcry against the Minister’s statements by referring to ‘isolated reactions’ from KISA.

Implicitly, the Minister of Interior accuses KISA, without naming it, of spreading lies, by referring to a “case of a so called suicide attempt of an immigrant” (17.12.2013 – version [v]). KISA not only has had no involvement whatsoever with the specific case, but also invites the Minister to indicate in public even one case that KISA presented based on ill-founded information. If the Minister of Interior continues to consider that KISA lies and misleads the public, then we suggest to Mr Hasikos to read again carefully the dozens of reports published by the independent authorities of the Republic of Cyprus (such as the Commissioner for the Protection of the Child’s Rights or the Commissioner for Administration and Protection of Human Rights) and / or international institutions, such as the European Commission, the European Court of Human Rights and the United Nations’ Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination).

KISA further believes that the Minister of Interior is promoting racist speech in the public sphere, by continuing to proceed in a series of institutional discriminations and vague references about “our own people and foreigners” (17.12.2013 – video [vi]), as well as problems with the presence of “250,000 foreigners”, who interfere with Cypriot citizens and their ability to claim their rights. Meanwhile, the Minister of Interior continues to stigmatize people with the use of the word “illegal”, as if there are legal and illegal people. Furthermore, KISA notes that in most cases even cases the Minister still describes as “illegal” (just because they have no formal residency status in Cyprus) are due to the inhumane and disastrous immigration policy of the state and the abusive and excessive exercise of power of the immigration authorities, which are turning people from “legal” to “illegal” within few days. Simultaneously, KISA believes that the claims of the Minister of Interior are very inconsistent, as one day he says that immigrants “helped the Republic of Cyprus very much and at least we should not be ungrateful” ( 17.12.2013 – Video [vii]), while the next day claims that “foreigners are eating the bread from the mouths of our own people” (17.12.2013 – video [viii]) … The Minister of Interior also makes another categorization which is purely unacceptable ad discriminatory: on the one hand, he  considers ‘legal’ wealthy people from third countries and welcomes them, since,  according to him, they contribute to the revival of the economy through the purchase of new houses, joint investments with Cypriot businessmen and / or bank savings, who have the possibility to “buy” the Cypriot citizenship, while on the other hand, he considers ‘​​illegal’, the poor and unemployed migrant workers, who, according to him, represent an ‘enormous burden’ and should be deported from Cyprus and being replaced by Cypriots unemployed workers in the labour market. Indeed, while the initial statements by the Minister of Interior was about “50,000 illegal immigrants who are in the labour market”, in recent TV interviews he referred to “about 30,000 illegal immigrants who are still in our country”, substantially reducing the number of informal migrants within two weeks by almost half.

KISA once again stresses that the only thing the Minister of Interior can succeed to do with these kind of statements is the promotion and reinforcement of far-right speech, a very dangerous rhetoric and practice, which may be utilized by the extreme right wing and its several nationalist, racist, neo-fascist and neo-Nazi manifestations.

KISA calls upon invites the Minister of Interior to immediately terminate the polemic that he follows against civil society organizations. The humanitarian problems caused by the current immigration policy are both real and severe and the head of the responsible ministry should play an essential role in the initiation of an honest, democratic and meaningful dialogue with the civil society, if the aim is to contribute to the defence of democratic institutions, the strengthening of the rule of law and the protection of human rights.

 Xasikos