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Our View: No simple answer to immigrant issues in old Nicosia

The scene on Monday morning (Christos Theodorides)

Everyone is expressing concern about the centre of Nicosia old town after Sunday night’s brawl in which a young Indian man was killed and another critically injured. Some 18 men were involved in the fight on Ledra Street, which took place at a time when there were people walking around and sitting in cafés. While the concern is understandable, especially as there have been four murders in this part of Nicosia in the last two years and calls for action, this is a complex issue that does not have a simple solution.

This was evident in the comments made on a radio show on Tuesday morning by Nicosia Mayor Constantinos Yiorkadjis, who came up with some sociological explanations for the situation in the old town – overcrowding, poverty, joblessness – and the obvious solution of more policing. He also spoke about social workers that spoke the language of the immigrants assisting their social inclusion, which is something easier said than done, considering this would require a lot of time and money.

Another suggestion by the mayor was to make landlords police immigrants. He suggested that landlords who rented accommodation to illegal immigrants should be held accountable just as people who employed them were. This was also an attempt to blame the landlords who rented poor housing to immigrants, as if the problem would go away if the standard of housing was improved and rents increased. The immigrants would simply move to a part of town where there was cheap housing, which would not solve the problem but merely take it to another location.

Then again, it cannot be denied that the old part of Nicosia is acquiring ghetto characteristics because of the low-cost housing, which is cheap and run down because of low local demand. Poor immigrants, legal or illegal, are inevitably attracted to such areas, driving away the few locals that may have lived there. There may also be some violence, but the extent is exaggerated. Nobody is afraid to walk in the old town at night because of the presence of immigrants. Of course, this could change which is why there have been calls for a bigger police presence in the area.

Perhaps this is the only way to keep the situation under control, for now, but government needs to come up with a longer-term plan for dealing with the problem as it is unlikely to go away any time soon.

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