Cyprus police arrest 21 people as tensions between locals and refugees rise

Tensions have been growing for several years as some locals believe too many refugees and migrants have settled in the area.

A migrant standing behind a fence
A migrant stands behind a fence inside a refugee camp in Kokkinotrimithia, outside of Nicosia, Cyprus [File: Petros Karadjias/AP Photo]

Cyprus police have arrested 21 people after violent clashes involving refugees and residents of a community in the west of the island which has a large population of asylum seekers.

On Tuesday, police said about 250 Syrians and Greek Cypriots in the village of Chloraka fell into violence on Monday night as smaller numbers of protesters from both groups began setting fire to rubbish bins and torching a building’s fence.

Anti-riot squad officers managed to separate the two groups, while one officer suffered second-degree burns to his hand from a Molotov cocktail.

Police spokesman Christos Andreou told state broadcaster CyBC on Tuesday that the clashes began when Greek Cypriots attempted to assault the migrants and refugees.

He said nine Greek Cypriots and a dozen migrants and refugees were detained.

Cyprus has seen a spike in the arrival of irregular migrants and people seeking asylum in recent years, though the rate of increase has tapered off this year.

A migrant woman in Cyprus
A refugee with her suitcase exits the Pournara migrant reception centre as riot police stand guard near the village of Kokkinotrimithia on the outskirts of the capital, Nicosia, Cyprus [File: Petros Karadjias/AP Photo]

About 20 percent of the migrant and refugee community in Chlorakas comes from Syria.

Tensions have been running high for several years over some locals’ belief that a disproportionate number of asylum seekers have settled in the area.

But Monday night’s clashes followed violence a day earlier when two migrants and a Greek Cypriot man were arrested after hundreds of Chloraka residents protested against what they called the “ghettoisation” of their village.

Andreou said the protest turned violent when smaller groups of demonstrators rampaged through the village, allegedly attacking one migrant, damaging a migrant-owned restaurant and overturning a car.

But what triggered Sunday’s demonstration was a police sweep through an abandoned apartment complex in Chloraka to evict dozens of refugees allegedly living there illegally.

Cyprus President Nikos Christodoulides condemned the incident and told reporters that violence solves nothing and only incites more violence.

Christodoulides added that he had instructed the police chief and the justice minister to hold talks with Chloraka municipal authorities and the Syrian refugees to “ensure public order” because “the people’s sense of security is non-negotiable”.

But trying to assuage the locals’ concerns, the president said curbing the number of migrants and refugees that arrive in the country remains a top priority for his government.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies