Interior Minister Socratis Hasikos on Monday defended statements that in the event there was no Cyprus solution, non-refugees would be called to pay a tax to support refugees for the property they lost.
Answering to criticism he drew from some opposition parties, Diko and the Greens, that his statements constituted blackmail against Greek Cypriots to accept Turkey’s terms, Hasikos reiterated that everyone should contribute, especially non-refugees, “unless the parliament and political parties disagree with equal burden-sharing”.
Hasikos said in his announcement that everyone – government, parliament, parties – ought to admit that for more than 40 years, Greek Cypriot refugees received “peanuts” in comparison to their loss of property. The needs of refugees were always met with temporary measures as all governments were negotiating the settlement of the Cyprus problem, he said.
“in this sense, generations of Greek Cypriot children grew up as refugees, given peanuts on the one hand and promises on the other,” Hasikos said. Despite the settlement talks, he said, “the occupation continues and refugees are still refugees”.
The existing policy on refugees, he said, cannot go on indefinitely. Without giving up the right to return, he said, the state policy on refugees should change drastically. “For example, a more just redistribution of Turkish Cypriot properties and equitable burden-sharing, which could come through taxation, especially of those who, for decades, had been benefiting from the increase of land prices”.
There could be other ways, he said, which would be discussed between the government, the House and the parties. “Yes, we all must contribute, especially the non-refugees,” he said.
In an interview with Politis on Sunday, Hasikos said a refugee who received CYP £1,000 in the 1970’s or 1980’s is not satisfied. The sense of justice is not restored”.
Hasikos also said that the redistribution of Turkish Cypriot land was already under way and that procedures had been set in motion to take Turkish Cypriot property from those who refuse to pay the higher rental rates introduced last May.
“We had cases where tenants were paying €2,000 (rent) per year for hundreds of hectares, whereas this amount should have been €100,000. It is a lot of property to be used by few and by those who have no property in the north,” Hasikos said. “All those who use Turkish Cypriot property today should understand that it is not theirs”.
In the event, any Turkish Cypriot moves to the government controlled areas and lives here for a period of time requests his or her property, he said, “we are obliged to return it to them”.
He added that around 1,500 Turkish Cypriot houses were given to Greek Cypriots – refugees and non-refugees – to use as holiday homes as a way of preventing this property from being left unattended and ruined.
The interior ministry, as the designated Guardian of Turkish Cypriot properties, had announced last year that those who used to pay €10 as monthly rent would now pay €25. Those paying between €11 and €20 will now pay €35. Property renting from between €21 and €30 will now be €45, while for those paying more than €31, the rent has increased to €50. The decision was met with discontent by many tenants who found the rent increase unfair as they said, they had spent a lot of money over the years to fix the properties and brought life back to deserted communities.
“I don’t care for their claims on restoration expenses. Does that mean the house is yours? These expenses have been written off through the years the property had been used at low rent,” Hasikos said.
He said that some would not support any solution precisely because they would not want to lose the usage right over the Turkish Cypriot property they rent.
Hasikos referred to a case of a Greek Cypriot actor, non-refugee, who uses such property as a holiday home and who had requested a bigger plot that was adjacent to his own property, to expand, but now refuses to pay the increased rent.
“I have given orders to kick him out,” Hasikos said. The actor in question, Chrisanthos Chrisanthou, had said in a message in his Facebook wall last month that those promoting a settlement solution were traitors. “Even if we are presented with the best solution he will not upvote it because he has the Turkish Cypriot house as holiday home,” Hasikos said.
The minister’s statements were not well received by some opposition parties.
“When our leadership intimidates and blackmails the Greek Cypriots to accept the Turkish terms, you understand to what level they have stooped. Shame on them,” the head of Diko Nicolas Papadopoulos tweeted on Sunday.
The Green Party too said in an announcement that Hasikos is “threatening us with new taxation if the Cyprus problem is not resolved”.
The association of users of Turkish Cypriot property welcomed on Monday Hasikos’ statements on the redistribution measures as this, they said, will benefit more refugees. They also called on the state “to adopt all those measures to prohibit the denigration and humiliation of refugees caused from to their debt obligations which they cannot meet due to the financial crisis”.