by Anna Misiaouli
Migration is a universal social phenomenon. Sometimes, migrants along with other disadvantaged and marginalized groups are used as scapegoats to rationalize the emergence of social problems in a country. For that reason, xenophobia, discrimination and racism are growing/ divulging in some regions of Europe.
Until the end of 1970’s, Cyprus was a country of emigration. The continuous development of the island led to the opening of doors for “imported” foreign workers with short-term contracts and specific areas of work to cover employment needs. The total number of migrants today reaches approximately 80,000 – 90,000. This confirms the fact that Cyprus has become a host country of migration (Movement for Equality, Support and Anti-racism, 2003).
Background information on the topic
A research conducted by the Youth Group of the Immigration Support Action Group in the framework of the European YOUTH program in regards to the “Integration of Young Migrants in Cypriot Society” (February, 2003), provided evidence about the young migrants situation and how they perceive they are treated by Cypriots. According to this research 74% of the informants report that they would like to stay in Cyprus permanently and 73% feel happy to be in Cyprus. However, they feel that the citizens are not very friendly to them (Review Cyprus Youth Policy, 2005).
In addition, the National Annual Report of 2005 to the European Monitoring Centre on Racism and Xenophobia (EUMC) indicates the potential of discrimination against migrants in Cyprus. The Ombudsman expressed her concerns “at the practice of deportation of migrant workers by the police based on mere suspicion, without sufficient grounds or the right to protest and refers to a number of such cases.”
The Youth Board of Cyprus and its efforts
The Youth Board of Cyprus strives to address the concerns of all young people in Cyprus irrespective of their religion or creed, ethnic or cultural origin, sex, political belief, socio-economic conditions, and physical or mental ability. Thus, the Youth Board of Cyprus has included among its objectives the promotion of tolerance, respect to diversity, sensitization and mainstreaming of anti-discrimination and anti-racist consciousness among young people. Thereafter and under the circumstances presented in the previous section, the Youth Board of Cyprus proceeded in the summer of 2006 to conduct a qualitative research to explore how non-Cypriots (who live and work or study in Cyprus) feel and to hear their views on how they are treated.
This research was conducted with the collaboration of Irish volunteers (underprivileged young people between the ages of 20 – 22 years old) participating in the “Conflict Resolution and Leadership” program of ‘Border Horizon’ and the ‘International School of Peace Studies’. These young people volunteered for the Youth Board of Cyprus for six weeks. Their task was to conduct a qualitative research for which they received training.
This research project used qualitative research method which primary goal is to examine social and cultural topics and to analyze them within their own setting through field-based research such as interviews. Qualitative research results are not generalizable and statistical data including percentages cannot be drawn. Nevertheless, qualitative research including the one presented below provides insight on views and opinions of people, and it is equally reliable, valid and valuable. As the data reflect individual opinions and beliefs, many times they seem to contradict each other. As to show respect to the participants of this research for spending their time for such a reason, even contradicting results are presented. It is important to emphasize that the data presented in this paper represents only a small portion of attitudes among the non-Cypriots in Cyprus.
Results of the research project
The people who were interviewed by the volunteers were from Nepal, Bangladesh, India, Ireland, Africa, Pakistan, Sweden, Greece, Iraq, and Sri-Lanka. The following results were obtained out of thirty-seven interviews:
- Most of the interviewees happened to be students (only three of the interviewees were working)
- All students disapprove the fact that they are not entitled to obtain work permits.
- Those who are working and some of the students came to Cyprus for a better life or because they feel safer here.
- Most of the interviewees expect their governments to pay for their welfare benefits, although their government does not do that. Therefore, the interviewees need to cover those expenses on their own.
- Almost everybody experienced discrimination, racism, and xenophobia in Cyprus.
- Half of the interviewees would neither marry nor have a relationship with people from a different ethic or cultural background.
- The majority assumes that no Cypriot would have a relationship with Asians since they are not very popular.
- Some notice that there is a language barrier, as they cannot understand Greek very well. Additionally some other non-Cypriots do not understand English very well.
- The interviewees, specifically the students, believe that if they got a job, their opportunities would be much better.
- The majority exclusively hangs out with people from their country and they do not mix much with the locals.
- Most of them like the locals but they do not communicate with them as much as they would like to do.
- They all feel that their religious beliefs, although different, are respected in Cyprus.
- All of the participants feel no equal treatment from the Cypriots.
- Most of them feel they are not liked here because they are not locals.
- Some others feel they are not treated equally and this is not very bad.
Those who feel not equally treated, think it is for the following reasons:
- they cannot obtain work permits as they are foreign students
- living in Cyrus is tough
- there is a lot of racism because of their skin color
Surprisingly enough, all interviewees agreed that they hold stereotypes for other people including Cypriots.
The European Year of Equal Opportunities for All will provide the framework to address the issues and concerns mentioned above. The abovementioned results of the reports and the research provide the evidences that an awareness raising campaign is absolutely necessary in Cyprus and has to be promoted in the society, especially among young people. Individuals have to become aware and conscious that all forms of discrimination, on the personal as well as on the societal level, have to be addressed and fighted.
The European Year of Equal Opportunities for All may provide the impetus for the further promotion of respect and acceptance and the offering of equal opportunities for progress and development of minorities in Europe.
Anna Misiaouli is since 1999 a Youth Officer at the Youth Board of Cyprus and National Correspondent in the Network of the European Knowledge Center for Youth Policy.