On the eve of International Day for the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, which is marked on March 21, migrant support group, KISA called on the government to replace the current migration model, which it said only promotes institutional prejudice and racism.
“As far as Cyprus is concerned, the basis of the institutional prejudice and racism stems primarily from the migration model in place and which views migrants in the country as second-class citizens,” KISA said in a statement.
At the same time, it added that politicians and other public figures and stakeholders, with “equally destructive, populist, xenophobic and racist rhetoric and positions”, had for years been trying to cultivate the image that migrants and refugees in Cyprus threaten social cohesion and are responsible for all economic and other problems in recent years.
“As in Europe, these policies and rhetoric enforce and propel the enhancement and rise of the far-right, fascist and neo-nazi parties and movements such as ELAM, which are openly and blatantly against migrants and refugees,” the group said.
it also said that an equal share of the responsibility for tolerating racism and discrimination belongs to a large section of the mass media, “which easily and uncritically publish news and positions which infect society”.
KISA cited as an example a recent broadcast by CyBC on its show ‘Tête-à-tête’ ‘during which singer N. Sfakianakis has, among other racist and intolerant comments, referred to the refugees as ‘illegal migrants and cowards who rape Greece'”.
Cyprus, it added needed to adopt a new model that would ensure equal access to society for migrants, irrespective of their nationality or any other diversity. An effective plan for the integration of migrants and their equal participation in society was also needed, KISA said.
“Cyprus must review all current legislation with discrimination provisions that differentiate people’s access to their rights based on ethnic origin and their bank deposits,” the statement said. It must also proceed with the development and implementation of a long-term plan to combat racism and discrimination at all levels, “from society, economy and education to legislation, institutions and politics”.
In a statement from the authority against racism and discrimination, its head, Ombudswoman Eliza Savvidou, said on Sunday that March 21 was a day everyone needed to reflect on and to focus on the essence of human rights with the basic principle that “all human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights.”
“In the admittedly difficult times, the search for scapegoats, loss of perspective and the substitution by the politics of fear in public debate, raise and breed xenophobia, intolerance and racism,” she said.
Savvidou said that despite the existence of legislation to eliminate discrimination and racism, the need to address and combat the phenomena was evident now more than ever in Cyprus.
Cypriot society, she said was being tested in a time of economic crisis, by the mass movement of people from poor to richer countries. Not only Cyprus but the entire EU had found itself unprepared and “treats the situation with embarrassment, fragmentation and without genuine solidarity”.
In general, she added, Cyprus had responded well in relation to rescuing refugees at sea, and to meet their basic needs, especially through remarkable volunteer contributions. However, the road towards full implementation of refugee protection was still long, Savvidou said.
It was about more than supplying basic needs. “We need the implementation of genuine, practical and honest integration policies for people in order to prevent the risk of social exclusion,” said Savvidou.
She also said the existing institutional framework in Cyprus needed to be updated to prevent racist incidents and hate speech, and to identify and punish the perpetrators. Not only migrants were subjected to the phenomenon, but also people with disabilities, LGBT, the elderly and single parents “experience on an almost daily basis violations of their fundamental rights and become the objects of pity and charity, she said.
Savvidou also mentioned some attitudes to Turkish Cypriots. “Hate crimes, which are directed against our Turkish Cypriot compatriots undermine the solution efforts to achieve peaceful coexistence. I have repeatedly expressed the view that racist violence exacerbates, not resolves differences. It accentuates the division and threatens the prospects for the peace and prosperity of all Cypriots,” she added.
“Racism is an evolving phenomenon, so there must be constant vigilance with regard to the identification and treatment of various forms it takes.”
Child Commissioner Leda Koursoumba had a more positive message. She said she acknowledged the sincere efforts of the Cypriot state to build and support an education system open to diversity and respect for human rights.
Koursoumba referred to a project by the education ministry for the school year 2015-2016, with the objective to raise the awareness of students against racism and intolerance.
She said primary and middle schools had embraced the goal and developed a variety of activities for its promotion.
“At the same time, I note that building within schools and in society in general the culture of peace and human rights is an ongoing challenge,” said Koursoumba.
Commissioner for Volunteerism, Yiannakis Yiannaki also acknowledged “a tendency in Cyprus towards racism”. “Unfortunately, the economic crisis led to increased cases of xenophobia, which are mainly related to the ethnic origin of a person or group of persons,” he said.
“Let the World Day Against Racism be the watchdog day for social solidarity and the day for social action towards developing a consciousness which sees that though we may be all different, at the same time we should all be equal,” his statement added.