THE GOVERNMENT policy of not allowing visitors from non-EU countries, booked to stay at hotels in the north on a foreign ministry banned list, appears to still be in force. It was suspended in September, after 35 Israelis who were denied entry made a big fuss at the airport and secured the intervention of their embassy to be allowed through. Fifteen Lebanese nationals, stopped on the same day were denied entry. The interior minister, who was unaware of the measure imposed by the foreign ministry ordered its suspension for a fortnight so it could be re-evaluated.
There was obviously no change of policy. According to the directive issued by the foreign ministry to the airport police, foreign visitors, booked to stay at hotels in the north that belonged to Greek Cypriots or were built on Greek Cypriot-owned land, had to be refused entry into the country. A list of the banned hotels was sent to the police command at Larnaca airport by the ministry. After the September incidents, there were no complaints by visitors barred from entering creating the impression the measure had been revoked.
No such thing happened. Last Monday, the Times of Israel news website reported that 39 Israelis were stopped from entering at Larnaca airport and were put on a flight back to Israel the next day. The Cypriot embassy in Israel gave the following explanation to the Israeli media: “Any tourist who arrives in Cyprus with the aim of vacationing in the territories occupied by Turkey is breaking Cypriot law and risks being returned to his country of departure.”
This misleading explanation, encapsulated the irrationality – not to say stupidity – and inconsistency of this blatantly discriminatory measure. It is not “any tourist”, as our embassy misleadingly claimed, but only tourists that are not citizens of an EU member-state that are barred from staying at banned hotels. Britons, Germans, Greeks are all free to stay in the banned hotels in the north and officers at passport control in Larnaca would not dare ask them in which part of the island they would be vacationing.
As for the assertion that tourists vacationing in the north would break Cypriot law, it is a blatant lie, unless there is one Cypriot law for EU nationals and another for third country nationals such as Israelis, Russians and Lebanese. If it is against Cypriot law to vacation in the north, why are Britons, Germans and Cypriots allowed to break the law with impunity? If the illegality relates to staying at the so-called banned hotels why do the police at checkpoints demand to know where everyone crossing north would be staying? Alternatively, they could stop every person returning south and asking them where they stayed. Those that stayed in banned hotels could be detained and charged for breaking Cypriot law. Perhaps our authorities could also take measures against people who ate at restaurants in the north that were owned by Greek Cypriots.
It is astonishing that this irrational measure that dictates selective enforcement of the law and could jeopardise relations with other countries, whose nationals are subject to discrimination by our state, was thought up by the foreign ministry. This is the ministry responsible for pursuing the government’s foreign policy objective, maintaining good relations with other countries and promoting a positive image of our country abroad. It is has failed in all these respects with its misguided and inexplicable measure.
The Anastasiades government has successfully pursued the building of close relations with Israel and the foreign ministry is now threatening these relations by denying entry to Israelis that will stay in the north. If this policy was applied to all tourists, it would still be stupid, but there would be no issue of discrimination. As things are, our state is unlawfully discriminating against the citizens of a country with which our government wants to have close relations. How clever is this? Lebanese tourists were also subjected to the same treatment at Larnaca airport. We do not know if Russian visitors have also been sent back, but as there have been no complaints, we can only assume they are treated like EU nationals, our foreign ministry mandarins terrified of angering Moscow.
This type of irrationality, bad faith and petty-mindedness has always marked the thinking of the foreign ministry mandarins, but President Anastasiades is also to blame for not putting a stop to this foolishness. There is no way the foreign ministry’s directive could have been sent to Larnaca airport police without the approval of the president. How was he persuaded the measure would benefit the country? Apart from jeopardising diplomatic relations with several countries, the bad publicity could also have an effect on tourism. And for what?
The sooner this measure is withdrawn the better for the country, as it will not bring the north’s economy to its knees and Cyprus will gain absolutely nothing from it.