The interior ministry quietly issued a decree disallowing any more Syrian refugees from settling in the coastal village of Chlorakas in Paphos, as numbers were causing a huge shift in demographics and creating ‘ghettos’, according to the local community leader.
“The minister of the interior stopped the settlement of Syrian refugees in Chlorakas a number of weeks ago, but it has only been reported in the media now. This is an important move as we can’t cope with the large number of refugees and we had a number of ghettos which is not acceptable,” Nikolas Liasides, the community leader of Chlorakas said, speaking to the Cyprus Mail on Friday.
The demographic of the area changed to quickly and the authorities were unable to keep up, he stressed, adding that around 20 per cent of the population is now Syrian.
Close to 7,000 people reside in Chlorakas, made up of 4,300 Cypriots and other Europeans and around 1,400 Syrian refugees, many from the same area in Syria. He said this number is too large and was mushrooming out of control.
“We should have around 4 per cent of refugees here and not 20 per cent. We had many problems last summer with criminality and the residents and the community board wanted to do something to stop this from getting worse and so we appealed to the authorities to help,” he added.
However, on Friday main opposition Akel issued a statement decrying the move as an ‘unprecedented action,’ requesting the government revoke it immediately.
They said that the decree,” violates the European Directive on the basis of which our national legislation guarantees the right of free movement, establishment and residence of asylum seekers.”
They also noted that the decree is against the spirit of the Charter of Fundamental Rights, which notes that we must first and foremost respect and safeguard.
“Akel calls on the government to immediately withdraw this decree and to manage the refugee issue through a human-centered approach, by taking measures in the framework of international and European law and with respect for human rights.”
But it appears that the move may be constitutionally sound, prominent human rights lawyer Achilleas Demetriades said on Twitter.
“Article 9Ea, unfortunately, grants the right to the minister to issue such a decree IF it is directed towards the public good. The question is whether such a demographic change is within the public good and to what extent it is against A14 of the constitution,” Demetriades said on Friday.
Liasides said that the decree was necessary as the large numbers of refugees in the area was causing a number of different issues.
“There were problems with the old houses they were staying in and also the schools were encountering issues; teachers were finding it almost impossible to teach classes due to the different languages. In a class of 20 kids, 8 would be from Syria, 6 Europeans and 5 Cypriots, it was a difficult situation.”
Liasides noted that companies can no longer draw up a contract to rent to a property in Chlorakas to a Syrian refugee: “It’s not allowed, and it is also illegal for owners to rent to Syrian refugees. If they did, they would be in trouble,” he said.
The controversial decree has meant that the number of refugees has stayed the same without increasing, which is helping to make the situation better, he said.
The community leader also noted that help is being given to Chlorakas by the ministry of education, in the form of special programme for school and social practices “We are very happy about that,” he said.
“This includes lessons for refugees to learn the Greek language to prepare them to go to class, they also learn music and other things, it’s to help them to more easily integrate into the school. We don’t want them not to go to school,” he said.
Last year, a growing crime rate and the murder of a Syrian man in Chlorakas spread fear among residents and forced Liasides to appeal for state help over groups of young, armed, single men, Liasides said. The situation spread serious concerns in the wider community, including among long-term Syrian residents who were in fear of the newer arrivals.
“Things are getting better. We do still have problems with criminality, but now there is a police unit that was placed here last year because of the dire situation, we are going the right way.”
He also stressed: “We are not racists. We love Syrians in Chlorakas and we want to be in a position to help them. We have had refugees here since the 1990’s and they are good people and a good, hard working nation and they are family people too. But we can’t handle the big numbers, it just isn’t viable.”