By Nick Theodoulou and Christodoulos Mavroudis
The near fatal injuries sustained by three Nepalese workers as their third-floor balcony collapsed has caused outrage, with Paphos Mayor Phedonas Phedonos slamming “greedy and criminal” landlords.
The two men aged 27 and 28, and a woman aged 29 were rushed to Paphos general hospital early on Friday morning by ambulance and remain there in in very serious condition.
They crashed through the two balconies below them – which also collapsed – as they appeared to have been sleeping outside, seeking relief from the heat. A parked car below was also destroyed by the debris.
Phedonos blamed the incident on “criminal and greedy” landlords who are exploiting poor migrant workers and asylum seekers, packing them into ‘dens’.
“These buildings not even suitable to be renovated, let alone rented out, they are only suitable for demolition but they [landlords] have turned them into gold mines,” he said.
“Up to eight, ten or even 15 foreigners are packed into a double or three-bedroom apartment and the landlord is getting €100 each – so getting up to €1,400 from an apartment which under normal circumstances they would not even get €200 for,” he hit out.
The Cyprus News Agency said the apartment block on Nikos Antoniades Street opposite Kennedy Square in central Paphos was old, with Phedonos adding that the derelict balcony collapsed at around 2:30am.
He said the other two balconies below them had broken the impact of the fall and that “we would be dealing with fatalities if there were people underneath”.
Moreover, he pointed out that there are 30 to 40 similar buildings in Paphos, or ‘dens’ as he referred to them.
In the specific apartment there were eight individuals residing, while another apartment in the same building is housing up to 14 individuals, Phedonos said.
The mayor further added that the specific balcony was often used to store gas cylinders and that he had protested the building’s shambolic state to the owner. The apartment block is over 40 years old and has not been maintained, he said.
Phedonos stressed that the situation with the migrants living in Paphos must be controlled the soonest and relevant measures be taken.
Authorities have faced criticism from the public for being aware of such dangerous dwelling but have seemingly failed to rein in the situation, with the issue being widespread.
In a statement, the fire service said it had been contacted by police about a collapsed balcony at 2.20am. Members of the police and fire service responded with a rescue team and vehicle.
“The rescue team carried out an extensive search in the ruins and the crushed car, without finding anyone else,” it said, adding that the investigation is being carried out in cooperation with police and the electro-mechanical service.
According to the relevant authorities, the balcony’s iron and concrete was corroded and ultimately collapsed.
The scientific and technical chamber’s (Etek) regional secretary Yiannis Koutsolemos said the process of maintenance checks cannot be left to the owner’s discretion.
“This building was a jewel in ‘82-83 and was in great condition. The responsible party for its maintenance is the owner and that is the problem,” he said.
“The major issue is that maintenance checks must be institutionalised and not be left to the owner’s discretion, much like MOTs in the case of vehicles. It’s a shame to lose lives because some process is not institutionalised,” he added.
The civil engineers’ association called on the government to swiftly update the laws so that regular inspection of buildings is required, with relevant certificates being issued.
The association argued that such a measure would act as a preventative policy, encountering weaknesses and dangerous buildings before they collapse; not afterwards.
Phedonas sounded the alarm in August 2020 when he toured similar properties following a series of complaints and reports to the police. At the time, he vowed to stamp out the problem.
He warned of the issue back then following pressure by the police and municipality, which showed him around ten shops of around 25 squares metres each converted into illegal accommodation for foreign workers and asylum seekers.
“There are groups of Cypriots, white-collar people with respectable jobs and families who are exploiting the situation,” Phedonos said at the time.
“The conditions in which some immigrants and refugees are forced to live are absolutely appalling and cannot be tolerated.”
The Paphos mayor also said that some of the landlords were further taking advantage of their tenants by using them as cheap labour for their businesses.