THERE is little doubt that Nicosia municipality, that has the old town under its authority, has been bearing the brunt of the immigration problem. Large numbers of immigrants – asylum seekers, refugees, economic migrants – are concentrated in the old town because of the cheap housing available.
It also helps that the area does not have many local residents to make a big fuss and to protest about the growing presence of immigrants, as they have done in other municipalities, like very recently in Aglandjia, when residents were on the streets trying to prevent a building being turned into a temporary shelter for women and children.
The lack of political pressure from residents combined by cheap, rundown housing has turned the old town, by default, into the main area for immigrants. Nicosia municipality has been left on its own to deal with the problem, with little support from the state, according to the mayor Constantinos Yiorkadjis, who complained that the government was allocating fewer and fewer resources to local authorities for carrying out checks and planning integration programmes. The municipality had undertaken initiatives within its powers and allocated the resources it could afford to deal with the many problems created, he said, but more had to be done.
He gave as examples of action, the legal measures taken against the owners of 40 buildings that, arbitrarily, had been turned into residences. The municipality had also written to the owners of dangerous buildings in which immigrants were staying and some were fined for not sealing off their properties.
Others were warned about hygiene problems and warned with legal action. There was also the issue of integration policies, which are costly, and the municipality can only do so much about given the lack of resources. Yiorkadjis, understandably, feel the municipality has been given little support by the government. He gave as an example the government refusal to grant a request for the recruitment of six health workers so that the frequency of inspections could be increased.
The mayor has every right to complain. Immigration policy is the responsibility of the state and this is not restricted to processing asylum applications. The state also needs to have a plan about what should be done with immigrants whose asylum requests have been granted as well as with refugees that cannot be asked to leave.
Even if the examination of applications is speeded up and many are sent back to their country of origin, there will also be a significant proportion that will stay on. The government must have a policy for their integration into society. It cannot expect Nicosia municipality to deal with problem on its own, because the availability of cheap housing has attracted the majority of immigrants to the old town.