Cyprus Mail

2013: The Cyprus Mail has been inundated this year with stories of families shoddily treated by the migration department

Muhammed Zeshan Nadeem and daughter Laiba shortly before his arrest (Giorgos Michael)

By Poly Pantelides

THE MIND boggled at the migration department’s decision this year to split a family apart, detaining the mother in one place, the father in another, and depriving a three-year-old of her parents based on a ludicrous excuse.

In November, a three-year-old girl was separated from her European mother and Pakistani father, because the migration department insisted the couple’s marriage was one of convenience.

An interior ministry report, seen by the Sunday Mail, claimed that Mitova Zoya Margaritova from Bulgaria “was already pregnant before her marriage” to Muhammad Nadeem. Police arrested her for deportation in early August based on “investigations establishing the marriage was one of convenience.” But the pair married in Cyprus on November 25, 2009 and their daughter Laiba was born on October 14 the next year.

“So, according to [authorities, Mitova] was pregnant for over 11 months!” the family’s lawyer Michalis Paraskevas said in his letter to Child Commissioner Leda Koursoumba.

Muhammad even had DNA testing to prove fatherhood, but that didn’t stop authorities from arresting him in November.

It is hard to imagine the same scenario unfolding if one of the parents, or both, were Cypriot. And are officials seriously suggesting that if a woman were pregnant before marriage, then her husband could not have been the father of her child? Or is it that people are having “children of convenience” now to convince authorities they are a legitimate couple?

Mind boggling indeed.

This case was not isolated. As 2013 progressed, the Cyprus Mail was inundated with examples of racism and discrimination involving legal migrants.

Koursoumba, the child commissioner, and ombudswoman Eliza Savvidou have told the newspaper that over the last few years the number of cases of alleged abuse and mistreatment has grown.

Savvidou said the migration department was getting harsher and suggested this was “possibly related to the xenophobic climate that is being developed in Cyprus”. Koursoumba said she has been intervening for over three years when children of migrants – often here legally or waiting on their asylum application – were deprived of one or both parents. She said the same stories kept getting repeated.

There was the Afghan asylum seeker detained with her 14-month-old daughter in a holding cell unsuitable to hold a family.

There was the 15-year-old living alone because her Chinese parents were kept in the holding facility in Menoyia for immigrants awaiting deportation.

Carmella and Fadel Hijazie
Carmella and Fadel Hijazie

And then there was the case of Fadel and Carmella Hijazie, a British woman and a Lebanese man living in Cyprus for six years, paying their social insurance payments and living in family property. Fadel was arrested when his youngest son was barely a month old and taken to Menoyia in March. Eight months later, the Supreme Court finally looked at his case and confirmed the arrest and deportation order were illegal. Fadel’s relief lasted only minutes. Outside the court, migration officials were waiting with a fresh deportation order. According to Fadel’s lawyer, this is common practice. The migration department tend to issue new orders if the previous ones are overthrown so they don’t have to release successful applicants.

Fadel went into hiding.

The above were just a few of the cases the Cyprus Mail wrote about. The stories of others went untold. The newspaper simply couldn’t cover them all. In each and every case the paper documented, the migration department refused to comment. The experts usually said their actions were illegal.

Discussion by politicians on migration focuses on the debt crisis and the jobs Cypriots would have if the foreigners didn’t, without analysing the job market and labour force to substantiate any claims.

There is no serious discussion about foreigners’ contribution to the economy. Meanwhile, the government is urging foreigners to invest in the country, throwing in a citizenship if they spend enough money and a permanent residency if they spend a little less.

The number of registered foreigners in Cyprus nearly tripled in a decade jumping from 65,000 to 170,000 between 2001 and 2011, the island’s statistical services have said. This has accounted for most of Cyprus’ population increase from 670,000 people in 2001 to 840,000 people in 2011.

It is a drastic change for an insular, close-knit society in such a short space of time.

Distrust of foreigners shows no sign of slowing and as the debt crisis deepens next year, Cyprus’ foreign population may become the scapegoats for everything that’s wrong with the economy.

One example will suffice. The labour minister was proud to announce recently a new plan to boost employment in the hotel industry by making speaking Greek obligatory in certain sectors.

She said this would help (Greek) Cypriots. When state broadcaster CyBC reported the news, its ticker read: ‘Ambitious plan to replace Filipinos.’

Exercise for the reader: spot all the things that are wrong with that sentence.

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