Foreign nationals on Limassol’s beachfront may have been targeted for their skin colour on Friday night, but by Saturday morning they pledged they would not let the violence scare them, though many were deeply shaken and concerned for their families.
By noon on Saturday, Limassol’s beach promenade in Molos betrayed only the barest hint of violence, despite the fact that 12 hours earlier the entire area was a smoke-fuelled wreckage that left a number of foreign nationals beaten and migrant businesses targeted in a racist rampage.
At an Asian store, the staff had tears in their eyes when asked about the previous night. Many could barely talk about it and one looked desperately around the store she spent the entire morning cleaning up and said “I don’t know what’s happening to Cyprus.”
“I’ve been here for five years and have never seen anything like this.”
The woman, from Vietnam, said she was extremely scared after what she saw. Thugs stole money from the till and the store was in shatters. The blinds wrecked, the produce littered over the floor, the shelves set on fire and the freezers smashed, with items stolen.
The Cypriot man who runs the store said he was disgusted by the behaviour of the Greek Cypriots. “Our own people carried out an invasion against us.”
He scoffed at the notion the protesters could describe themselves as nationalists. “Those people pretend to be nationalists. Do they think this is good for their country? These weren’t protestors. If you want to protest you go on the street and shout, maybe you throw a rock. They broke into a shop and stole money, destroying everything in the process. They’re hooligans.”
Since his outspoken statements to the press, he has since received a phone call from an extremist telling him “this is only the beginning.”
For the Egyptian owner of Mr Habibi restaurant on the Molos strip, he said the scene was unimaginable in the morning. “Even the plant pot, they broke it. What did the plant do to them? They broke the glasses in the shop. They destroyed everything outside,” he said.
“I have lived in this country for 14 years and never had a problem with Cypriot people. I pay social insurance, I pay taxes, I do everything right, I don’t cause any problems to anyone, why would they do this?”
The owner said he has always felt safe on the island. So safe in fact that in the seven years he has been running his business, he did not even feel the need to put CCTV cameras. Since the destruction, his Cypriot neighbours called him repeatedly and asked if he needed anything.
On Friday, he knew there would be a protest so he, along with many other stores in the area, shut early at around 5pm, and went home to be safe so as to avoid any scuffles.
Nonetheless a few hours later, he got a call from friends telling him the store had fallen prey to the violent rampage from extremist thugs who took part in the anti-immigrant protest.
‘Fu**ing Syrians and fu**ing blacks’ were recurring chants on the march, as were ‘Cyprus is Greek’ and ‘foreigners out of our country.’
“I wanted to show respect to their march so I closed early, I didn’t want them to think I was provoking them. But what they did here is not respectful. I’m never going to leave my store because of them again and sit at home with my arms crossed as they destroy my work. I’d rather die in my store.”
The resilience has been shared across a number of migrants who saw their years of work go up in a flash when masked individuals threw Molotov cocktails into the stores.
Syrian national Taesir Ramadan who runs the Gold Man barbershop on Limassol’s seafront, speaking in fluent Greek, said he has had the store since 2019.
Was he scared after the violent incidents?
“No, I know the Cypriot people. We never had any problems with them. One Syrian man in Paphos said something bad but they don’t have to extend that to all Syrians.”
Security footage shows horrific images of a group of people clad in masks and gear, wrenching a man sleeping on the store bench, who Ramadan said was beaten on the pavement. A Molotov was thrown into the store which exploded, wrecking destruction across the barbershop.
A member of staff from Iraq said he grew up in Cyprus and would also be unfazed by the violence. “Yesterday we went home at 5pm because we wanted to stay away from all of this.”
Most say this is an isolated incident of extremists and it’s important for the government to clamp down with punishment, so as to deter any further incidents.
But for another Syrian national who has been in Cyprus for two years, the fear was a lot more evident as he was jittery and nervous, recounting events from the previous night. The glass front of the store had multiple points where it was shattered, which he said would cost around €2,500 to repair.
“I don’t have this kind of money. If I had this much, I wouldn’t be here right now.”
The man said he was also considering changing the name of his store which is currently written out in Arabic, English and Greek. “I think I’ll remove the Arabic part now and keep the Greek only, I need to be safe so I can take care of my family. I have a wife and two children.”
Locals however have decried the violence in the strongest terms on social media, saying “you can take your fascism, put it on a boat and disappear. Everyone can swim on our beach.”
Another posted images of a Kuwait tourist who was dining with his friends in Molos “and was beaten because he’s tanned and was at the wrong place at the wrong time. This is not our Cyprus.”