By Constantinos Psillides
INTERIOR Minister Socratis Hasikos said yesterday that illegal immigrants have no place in Cyprus and that it’s wrong to send out the message that all illegal immigrants can come to the island and stay indefinitely.
Speaking at a press conference on immigration, Hasikos also scolded immigrant support groups, saying that in the future “they should contact the ministry so everyone is fully informed on the real facts and the ministry can make the right decisions. We are not after anyone. But we are obliged to enforce European law and secure the rights of everyone, legal and illegal residents alike”.
The minister was responding to a public outcry regarding the practice of separating immigrant mothers from their children. The detention of two women, a pregnant Vietnamese and a Sri-Lankan with an 18-month old baby, sparked reaction from immigrant support groups including “Stop Trafficking”. The head of Stop Trafficking, Androulla Christofides-Henriques threatened that she would go on a hunger strike in front of the ministry if the women weren’t released.
The ministry complied and released both. The Sri-Lankan decided to leave the island following her ordeal. She had been forced to breast-feed her 18-month child behind bars, as she was detained pending deportation. The child was brought to her by her husband, several times a day.
The minister also responded to criticism by the Commissioner for Human Rights of the Council of Europe, Nils Muižnieks, who said on Tuesday that the practice of detaining mothers of minors solely for the purpose of deportation should be stopped, that the child’s best interests should come first and that this behaviour contravenes international human rights standards.
“There was neither an official statement by the EU nor a demarche. By protesting, we gave the Commissioner the right to proceed with posting that statement on Twitter,” the minister said, referring to the extensive media coverage, including statements by Ombudswoman Eliza Savvidou and Child Commissioner Lida Koursoumpa condemning the practice and demanding the release of the two women.
Hasikos told the press that the Vietnamese woman was deported but returned to the island using a false passport and that she attacked police officers with a knife when they tried to arrest her. He added that at the time of her arrest she wasn’t aware of the fact that she was pregnant.
The minister noted that deportation is used as a last resort and only after all other options are exhausted. “When it comes to families that stay in Cyprus illegally, both parents are never imprisoned”.
However, the Immigration Services have detained both parents in at least one case, although only the mother was an immigrant. In February a Sri-Lankan woman was arrested after visiting her husband, a Romanian national, in prison. The woman had her 3-year old child who was handed over to the Welfare Services. The immigration office issued a deportation order which was rescinded after the head of the Independent Authority for the Investigation of Allegations and Complaints against the Police (IAIACAP) intervened. The pair was part of a suspected police brutality investigation, which was carried out by the IAIACAP. The woman alleged that in January 2013 she miscarried after being attacked by police officers.
Hasikos shifted the blame for all the problems to the previous administration. “There was no immigration policy in place so the Interior ministry is called upon to handle cases that are dated ten years back”, he said.
Hasikos added that there was an “industry behind immigrant issues, like sham weddings and lawyers who deal almost exclusively with immigrant cases. We still have trouble when it comes to housing immigrant families but a ministerial committee is dealing with them. We expect the Menoyia Detention Centre to be expanded soon so families can stay there”, he concluded.