Five people were injured after migrants and refugees were attacked on Friday when an anti-immigrant rally turned violent in Limassol.
Cypriot police have arrested 20 people after a rally against migrants and refugees in Limassol, the island’s second largest city, turned violent with mobs vandalizing property.
Police said five people were injured during the unrest, which occurred on Friday night after about 500 people took to the streets for the rally.
Police said rubbish bins were set on fire and some shops were vandalized. The Cypriot media quoted eyewitnesses as saying that some foreigners were attacked during the march.
Asian delivery drivers were attacked and shop windows owned by migrants were smashed as the violence continued into the early hours of Sunday morning, according to Reuters news agency.
Police used water cannons to disperse the demonstrators, some of whom were masked and carrying a sign that read “Refugees are not welcome”.
State media reported that three people from Southeast Asia were attacked and robbed during the night from Saturday to Sunday.
Among the victims was a group of visitors from Kuwait, according to eyewitness accounts on social media.
Senior diplomat Kyriakos Kouros said the ambassador of an unnamed Arab country lodged a protest on Saturday after the tourists were targeted.
“They cut short their visit. I doubt they will ever come back,” Kouros, the permanent secretary at the Foreign Ministry, wrote on social media platform X on Sunday, posting a photo of a group leaving an airport. One member of the group was in a wheelchair.
“It is the first time that I am so embarrassed by an incident like this in our country,” he wrote. “This is not the Cyprus I was born and raised in, had a family and grew old in,” he said.
— thanks c. Κούρος (@KourosKyriakos) September 3, 2023
High rates of violence
The incident came days after about 20 people were arrested during violent clashes between Cypriots, migrants and refugees near the western resort of Paphos, as authorities began removing Syrians from a condemned apartment complex.
Video footage posted on social media showed a group of Greek Cypriots chanting “Get out, get out” during the demonstration. Police said it turned violent when the Greek Cypriots came face to face with a group of Syrians.
The violence continued after about 500 Syrians staged a peaceful counter-protest, according to police, who said they used tear gas and water cannon to disperse the two sides.
Cyprus, a member of the European Union, says it is a “frontline country” on the migrant route in the Mediterranean, and is struggling to deal with an influx of illegal immigrants and refugees.
The latest EU data shows that Cyprus has the highest number of first-time asylum applications per capita in the 27-nation bloc.
Authorities said last week that migrants and refugees make up an estimated 6 percent of the island’s population. The average in the European Union is around 1 percent.
Refugee camps in Cyprus are overcrowded. In many places, slums have formed where people live in poverty.
“Embarrassing” photos: Cypriot Prime Minister
On Saturday, Cypriot President Nicos Christodoulides held an emergency meeting to discuss the unrest in Limassol with the police chief and the justice and interior ministers.
This is the second emergency meeting within a week after Tuesday’s session following the violence in Paphos.
“There’s not much to say other than the embarrassing pictures we saw,” Christodoulides told reporters, looking exasperated. “They have nothing to do with dealing with immigration.
“If all those involved (in the events in Limassol) loved or cared for our country, they would not have taken such actions which, above all, dishonor our country.”
In the past 16 years, 413 racist attacks and incidents have been taken to court in the Greek Cypriot administration, and 125 cases related to these matters are still pending in the courts, according to the Cyprus newspaper Politis.
Asylum applications decreased
The number of migrants and refugees applying for asylum in Cyprus decreased by 53 percent over the last five-month period, according to data from the Ministry of the Interior.
The figures showed that more than 10,600 people applied for asylum from March to July 2022, compared to 4,976 in the same period this year.
But police data shows a rise in the number of migrants and refugees arriving by sea, with more than 500 people landing on 45 small fishing boats or inflatable dinghies in the past three months, most of them from Syria.