The strong reaction of Russia’s foreign ministry over the treatment of one of its nationals by the Cyprus immigration police at Larnaca airport was not only understandable but perfectly justified. The Russian tourist claimed she was treated like a criminal – “unreasonably detained, imprisoned, blackmailed and mocked” – after informing an immigration official at the airport that she was intending to holiday in the north. She also alleged she had been intimidated, yelled at by male officers and threatened.
Russian foreign ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said her government considered the “rude and unceremonious treatment of law-abiding Russian citizens arriving in Cyprus” with all the required documentation “absolutely unacceptable.” Nobody could disagree with her assertion nor with her advice that the Republic needed to publish entry requirements on the websites of its consular missions in Russia. For a visitor arriving in Cyprus for a holiday to end up in a police cell at the airport before being sent back to the country they came from at their own expense must be a big shock.
A country that depends on tourism and a reputation as a friendly tourist destination cannot spring such surprises on visitors arriving in Larnaca, even if they have booked holidays at Greek Cypriot-owned properties in the north. They had done nothing illegal by booking a holiday in the north. In fact, this sanction is not only unlawful but also discriminatory, because it does not apply to Greek Cypriots or local residents – the authorities do nothing to stop locals from holidaying at hotels built on Greek Cypriot land in the north. No local crossing north at the checkpoints is ever asked where they would be staying by police.
This is because the sanction, according to attorney-general Costas Clerides, is flawed legally. There was no legal basis for barring entry into the Republic on the grounds that a foreigner planned to stay in a Greek Cypriot property in the north, he argued last year but this has not stopped the state authorities from arbitrarily enforcing this unlawful and discriminatory measure that relies on intimidation. The woman, who was sent back to Russia, said that she was deported with another woman who had been held at the airport for four days, indicating that her case was not a one-off.
The irony was that the Cyprus News Agency quoted an unnamed source at our foreign ministry saying “it would be unfortunate for the positive image on the treatment and hospitality Russians citizens enjoy in Cyprus to be tarnished.” The foreign ministry would be primarily to blame for this as it imposed this absurd measure and kept it in force despite the opinion of the attorney-general and the obvious harm it could cause tourism. And now, the ministry is investigating the incident at the airport with “due seriousness”, reported CNA. But what was it investigating, the level of stupidity in foreign ministry decisions?