Major Cyprus police operation on migrants at condemned building
August 23, 2023 11:56 AM
A major Cypriot police operation Tuesday found dozens of migrants living in a condemned apartment complex near the resort city of Paphos, after protests by residents and allegations of electricity theft.
There has long been friction between the asylum-seekers and residents of the town of Chlorakas, who have held protests demanding that the flats be cleared.
The issue resurfaced after the state electricity utility cut power to the complex and placed the local substation under guard.
European Union member Cyprus argues it is a "frontline country" on the Mediterranean migrant route. Last year, according to EU data, it had the highest number of first-time asylum applications relative to population in the 27-member bloc.
"Personnel are in the area and have blocked off the building complex and begun to register all the foreigners who are settled in the specific complex in Chlorakas," Paphos police spokesman Michalis Nicolaou told reporters.
He said the asylum-seekers would be registered and transferred to a migrant reception centre for processing to determine whether they have the right to stay on the east Mediterranean island.
The interior ministry later said inspection of the 250 apartments had found 81 people living there, including 23 asylum seekers.
Deportation procedures will be started for one person found to be in Cyprus illegally, a ministry statement said.
The remainder "made known their intention to leave in the next few days and find another place to stay", it added.
But one resident, who gave his name only as Mahmud, told AFP they have no alternative.
"We have no electricity and no water, the police threaten us with eviction every day. Where can we go?" the Syrian asylum seeker asked.
Another Syrian, Abu Shahinaz, said they have difficulty finding other accommodation because of local attitudes.
"When you want to rent a house, the owners tell you: 'Are you Syrian? Then no.'"
When AFP visited the Ayios Nikolaos complex more than 18 months ago around 700 refugees were living there, most of them from Syria.
On Tuesday police carried out an eviction order issued in November 2020 but not implemented.
State broadcaster CyBC said that around 150 migrants had left the complex before the operation began.
Under the 2020 decree, the Ayios Nikolaos apartment complex -- whose abandoned swimming pool is filled with rubbish -- should have been closed on health and safety grounds.
Around 100 migrants launched a protest last week demanding to be rehoused elsewhere. The police anti-riot unit intervened, using tear gas against them.