By Lizzy Ioannidou
Interior minister Constantinos Petrides has come to the defence of President Nicos Anastasiades who was recently accused of racist impropriety for the use of the term ‘illegal immigrants’.
Petrides said the same vocabulary is used by both the presidents of the European Commission and the European Council.
Anastasiades, as well as the president of ruling Disy Averof Neophytou came under fire on Saturday from Politis daily newspaper and accused of adopting a far-right approach and racist vocabulary during an informal summit of the European Council in Salzburg on September 20, which had focused on Europe’s migration problem and the fact that Cyprus had seen an upsurge in illegal immigration recently.
Petrides said he found no fault in the president’s use of the term ‘illegal immigrants’, saying this same vocabulary is used by the president of the European Council Donald Tusk and by the president of the European Commission Jean-Claude Juncker.
“Nobody, of course, accused the president of the European Council, nor the president of the European Commission, of far-right approaches, nor of “racist improprieties” for their use of the term “illegal immigration”, as President Anastasiades was by Politis newspaper,” Petrides said.
Petrides said the reference was used in an official document of the European commission in 2017, outlining measures on how to effectively deal with ‘illegal immigration’, and proposing policies to stimulate the return of ‘illegal immigrants’ to their home countries, as well as financial measures with a view to eliminating illegal immigration altogether.
Petrides also referred to a letter by Juncker sent to Anastasiades on September 5 outlining that recent talks between the European Commission and Turkey “provides that Turkey should take all necessary measures to prevent the opening of new routes of ‘illegal immigration’, either by sea or by land.”
However in some countries in the West, people from social justice factions now find it politically incorrect or offensive to use the words ‘illegal immigrant’.
The appropriate vocabulary, according to the Unhcr, is the use of the term ‘irregular migrants’ to refer to the flow of persons entering a country illegally. The idea is to refrain from attributing the element of illegality to the individual, as what is illegal is the method through which the individual entered a country, and not the person themselves.
According to Petrides, the term ‘illegal immigration’ is still valid on the level of the European Council, while in the European Parliament has adopted the term ‘irregular migration’ following the suggestion of Unhcr.
However, Petrides’ defence of Anastasiades was judged to be beside the point by Politis on Monday, as “the use of the term ‘illegal migration’ by president Tusk and president Juncker is different from Anastasiades’ use of the term ‘illegal immigrants’,” as the latter attributes illegality to the individuals themselves.
The daily also claims that during the September 20 summit, Juncker used the term ‘irregular’ to describe both the flow of migration and migrants themselves, not the term ‘illegal’.
Aware of this distinction, but choosing to downgrade its importance, Petrides said that “the issue is not the vocabulary proposed by some organisations or NGOs, but that as an occupied country, a victim of illegal settlement, which is now a systematic and methodological destination of migrants from Turkey, migration was already an issue for Cyprus.”
Petrides sidelined the president’s failure to use the vocabulary suggested by the Unhcr by highlighting “the excessive and disproportional pressure (of migration), as well as the imminent dangers, especially for a small state, dangers that may be social, economic, demographic, or that relate to safety, or others.”
“Some may disagree on the level or kind of danger or may have different approaches to the issue of migration, but if we want to retain a civilised discussion we are going to have to refrain from using extreme, out-of-place and offensive characterisations, either towards the president or towards any citizen,” Petrides concluded.