THE MIGRATION Department has always been a law unto itself. With discretionary powers it exercises as a matter of routine, rather than in exceptional cases, it operates as like a government department of a totalitarian regime, in which no individual rights were recognised and rule of law was an irrelevance. Concepts like accountability and transparency are unheard of as everyone, from the director down to the last official, can take the most outrageous decision with impunity.
Several of the Department’s abuses were highlighted in a report in the last issue of the Sunday Mail, which quoted the Ombudswoman, Eliza Savvidou as saying that complaints against migration officials had been on the increase in the past year. Savvidou said: “We are observing a growing harshness of attitude by the migration department that is possibly related to the xenophobic climate that is being developed in Cyprus.” The Ombudswoman also mentioned how the department often failed to respond to requests for information relating to cases and when it did, this was inadequate.
In the cases reported by the Sunday Mail, the main charge made by the department against foreigners was that they had entered a ‘marriage of convenience’. A Lebanese man has been held at the Menoyia centre for seven months, awaiting deportation, on the grounds that he had entered a marriage of convenience with an EU citizen. The couple have two young children (aged 3 and 8 months) but the migration department has decreed that he was in a marriage of convenience and had to be deported.
In another case, a Pakistani man who had a child with a Bulgarian woman and proved he was the father by DNA test, was arrested for deportation because he had entered a marriage of convenience according to migration. That married couples with children are accused of entering a marriage of convenience, is an illustration of how migration officers abuse their powers.
Savvidou said the migration officials would go to people’s homes to check if they lived together, examine their personal items and ask questions about their sex life to establish if they were in a marriage of convenience. Nobody is saying there are no marriages of convenience, aimed at fooling the authorities, but the migration department cannot act indiscriminately, bringing such accusations against whomever it chooses, including couples with families. Do people have ‘children of convenience’ as well?
The problem is that the Department has had a licence to abuse its powers for too long. For more than a decade it has had the same director, who has come to believe – with ample justification as nobody ever challenges her autocratic behaviour – that she can do as she pleases. This attitude is the ethos of the migration department and there will be no change unless the director is replaced and its powers restricted.