Cyprus arrests 21 in anti-migrant violence

Saint Nicolas residential complex in Chlorakas, a Cypriot town where Greek Cypriots and Syrian migrants clashed (Christina ASSI)
Saint Nicolas residential complex in Chlorakas, a Cypriot town where Greek Cypriots and Syrian migrants clashed (Christina ASSI)

Cyprus police said Tuesday they have arrested 21 people after violent clashes between Cypriots and migrants near the resort city of Paphos, where authorities have started removing Syrians from a condemned apartment complex.

There has long been friction between asylum-seekers and residents of Chlorakas town.

Tensions flared on Sunday, police said, when a protest against the migrants escalated into splinter groups vandalising and damaging property belonging to the foreign residents, in racially motivated attacks.

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.

Video footage on social media showed a group of Greek Cypriots chanting "get out, get out" during the demonstration. It turned violent, police say, when the Greek Cypriots came face-to-face with a group of Syrian migrants.

The violence continued on Monday evening after around 500 Syrians held a peaceful counter-protest, according to police, who said they used tear gas and water cannon to disperse the Greek Cypriots and migrants.

One police officer was hit in the hand by a Molotov cocktail and received a second-degree burn.

Police said the 21 people arrested included eight Greek Cypriots, one Greek national, and 12 Syrians.

Christos Andreou, a police spokesperson, told state broadcaster CyBC that 24-hour patrols will take place in the area to prevent further escalation.

Last week, in a major police operation, officers found dozens of migrants living in a condemned apartment complex in Chlorakas.

Cyprus President Nikos Christodoulides held an emergency meeting Tuesday to discuss the unrest with the police chief and justice minister.

"Violence does not solve any problem. It is condemnable wherever it comes from," Christodoulides, who has made irregular migration his government’s highest priority, said on Monday.

The number of migrants applying for asylum dropped by 53 percent over a recent five-month period, according to data provided by the Interior Ministry.

More than 10,600 people applied for asylum from March to July 2022, compared to 4,976 in the same period this year, the figures showed.

However, police data show a rise in the number of migrants arriving by boat, with more than 500 migrants landing on 45 small fishing boats or inflatable dinghies in the last three months. The vast majority were from Syria.