Authorities on Monday said they had launched an investigation into allegations that a Russian woman was detained and mistreated when she arrived at Larnaca airport after saying she was intending to holiday in the north.
Her treatment has prompted a slap on the wrist for Cypriot authorities by the Russian foreign ministry over the violation of its nationals’ rights upon entering Cyprus.
A source within the foreign ministry told the Cyprus News Agency that the incident is being investigated with the “due seriousness”.
The woman, Irina Shirobokova, said on her social media account on October 28, that she had experienced “hell” upon her arrival at Larnaca airport, where she was “unreasonably detained at the border, imprisoned, blackmailed and mocked” after informing authorities of her intention to cross to the north.
She said that after being told she could not cross to the north, she told authorities she was quite willing to stay in the Republic and rent a place to stay.
Instead, she said, she was detained, intimidated by male officers, yelled at and threatened.
Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said last Friday that the embassy in Cyprus will request Cypriot authorities to provide official information on the non-admission and the detention of Russian citizens at airports.
She said the Russian embassy in Cyprus has registered a growing number of complaints by Russians in the past few months over the tighter requirements for documents that have to be submitted at Cypriot check points.
According to Russian News Agency, Tass, Zakharova was replying to a question from journalists about the violation of Shirobokova’s rights.
“We deem it absolutely inadmissible the rude and unceremonious treatment of law-abiding Russian citizens arriving for the purposes of tourism or for any other legal reason in the territory of Cyprus with all the duly executed documents,” Zakharova said.
The diplomat said that the actions “by the personnel of the Cypriot border guard service towards I. Shirobokova may be qualified in a judicial manner and may be appealed against by the affected person in a court of law of the Republic of Cyprus upon the presence of the corresponding evidential base.”
She said they urged the Republic to officially publish migration requirements on the websites of its consular missions in Russia.
Tass reported that on November 1, Russia’s foreign ministry raised the issue with the Cyprus ambassador to Moscow, Leonidas Markides.
The foreign ministry source expressed concerns over the impact of the incident on tourism from Russia.
“It would be unfortunate for the positive image on the treatment and hospitality Russian citizens enjoy in Cyprus to be tarnished,” the foreign ministry source told CNA.
By the end of October, more than 750,000 Russians had visited the island so far this year.
Shirobokova said that she had made the same trip about a month ago with her parents and crossed to the north without a problem.
This time however, she said, she was put initially in a cell where she was harassed by officials, and was then transferred to the prison cell at the airport, where there were many people “who had (faced) the same or even more stupid pretexts for detention”.
Some of them, she said, had been detained for three to five days, including women with children, many girls and an elderly woman who went to visit her children and grandchildren.
She said she was only released after being blackmailed into signing a paper saying that she would return the amount spent on her deportation, but it was not specified how much. She signed the document, she said, because she did not want to stay there for an unspecified period of time.
She was deported to Moscow, along with another young woman who had been detained at the airport for four days. She said they were escorted to the plane like convicts, and that on their arrival in Moscow Russian services confirmed that everything that they went through in Cyprus was illegal.
“Even if there are any legal reasons for keeping people, where is the explanation of cruelty and bullying?” she asked.
The incident adds to the list of complaints over detentions at the airport of persons wishing to cross to the north and of bad treatment by officers.
After some 35 Israeli visitors were denied entry in September 2017 after they said they were going to cross to the north, it emerged that this was on the instructions of the foreign ministry. Non-EU nationals arriving in Cyprus are asked to state their place of residence in the government-controlled areas during their visit. If they state they intend on staying in property belonging to Greek Cypriots in the north, they are denied entry. Officers at the airport have lists with this property, prepared by the foreign ministry, with the name of each hotel, and the area they are located in, in the north.
On the same day, around 15 Lebanese tourists were turned away for the same reason. Around a month later, some 40 Israelis who had arrived in Larnaca on their way to the north were also expelled.
Earlier in the same year, in April, 13 children from Serbia who were to perform at a festival in the north, were also denied entry at Larnaca.
The foreign ministry’s instructions seem to remain in place, even though attorney-general, Costas Clerides, opined last year that the policy is deeply flawed legally. He has argued that no legal basis exists for barring entry into the Republic on the grounds that a foreign national plans to stay in a Greek Cypriot property in the north.