THE IMMIGRATION Department’s arbitrary actions and other excesses have been well-documented over the years. The ombudswoman, deputies, immigrant support groups and the media have reported countless cases of the department’s heavy handedness and systematic abuses of power; there was even a public falling out between a former interior minister and the head of the department, over the handling of specific cases.
But none of this has changed the Department. Abuse of power remains its modus operandi and it continues to consider calls for accountability with disdain. The Department is a law unto itself, recognising no rights to immigrants, denying them information and often deporting them without following proper procedures. It continues to behave in this authoritarian way because it can crush its disenfranchised victims with impunity.
No government or political party is willing to censure the Department because they do not want to be perceived by the public of being soft on immigration. There has always been hostility towards immigrants, but it has become more acute with soaring unemployment, many people complaining that illegal immigrants and asylum seekers were taking Cypriot jobs. In this climate, no politicians would dare say anything critical of the Immigration Department, which is fully aware of this.
The arrogance of the Department has become quite frightening, as it no longer maintains even a pretence that it is operating within the law. As we reported last week, the Department completely ignored a Supreme Court decision, issued on December 19, ordering the immediate release of a Bosnian asylum seeker. A second ruling was issued on February 7, because the Department had ignored the December ruling, keeping the Bosnian in custody. The Supreme Court ruling censured the Department and the Interior Ministry, which, reportedly, were considering appealing the decision.
Could there be a more blatant case of contempt of court? Yet the Department had the audacity to issue a statement claiming there was no intention to defy the court ruling (which was exactly what it had done), maintaining the issue was a of ‘a delicate legal nature that might affect the department’s ability to handle similar cases’. In short, the Department decided to ignore the court ruling because it knew better than the judge. It is accountable to nobody and believes it has no obligation to respect the law.
Such behaviour is what we would expect to see in a police state not in a democracy that boasts rule of law. This is why the government needs to take a stand. Replacing the head of the Immigration Department, who has been in her post for an unhealthily long time, would be a step in the right direction. Ministers may have tolerated the Department’s abuses of power – wrongly – but they should draw the line at contempt of court by a state official.