In its central position in the Eastern Mediterranean, and by virtue of its EU member state status, Cyprus is likely to encounter more immigration in the form of asylum seekers in years to come.
In this letter, I wish to argue that a negative can potentially be turned to a positive – asylum seekers can be entered into local work programmes in order to provide the one thing that is truly missing in the Cypriot economy – manpower that is skilled, or willing to be taught to be skilled.
Many of the asylum seekers coming from war-torn countries such as Syria and Iraq are highly educated and have work experience in diverse industrial areas. Likewise, economic migrants, by their definition, are willing to go where there is stable long-term employment and financial security.
Asylum seekers who arrive in Cyprus must be shown a helping hand if they show true willingness to integrate, learn and work. We can teach them Greek writing and spoken language, Cypriot cultural interests and local understanding.
In return, we will be getting sorely-needed manpower – I am not just talking about fruit pickers, field workers, residential staff and cleaners – I am talking about skilled people being empowered to bring their skills to the Cyprus economy.
We need several things from asylum seekers, as a reciprocal arrangement for seeking asylum, housing and welfare. Men and women could volunteer to the Cyprus National Guard for a term of service, in order to fast-track their citizenship. Asylum seekers who are physically unfit to serve in the National Guard could instead serve the Civil Defence Force or as government-supervised apprenticeship training-for-labour with larger companies.
The core of my argument is that if you are going to come to Cyprus as an asylum seeker, it is better to provide residence; welfare and citizenship in exchange for participating in a structured work programme rather than letting people languish in detention centres doing nothing.
We must recognise that Cyprus needs all kinds of Cypriots to function properly. For years we have suffered a brain and skill drain from students leaving the country, often with their families, to find skilled work in enterprise abroad. However, the asylum-seeker community may present a gift we are yet to cherish or understand – skilled manpower, experienced labour and people power.
Lastly, I argue that asylum seekers, regardless of their background, ethnicity or skin colour, could be helped to integrate as some of our finest citizens in the future, given a chance to succeed.
Nicholas Georgiou, via email