NICOSIA (Reuters) – Police in Cyprus have made 20 arrests after a spate of racism-fuelled violence against migrants which erupted last week in the west of the island and spread at the weekend to the southern city of Limassol.
Storefronts belonging to migrants in the island’s second city were smashed and Asian delivery drivers assaulted in a string of violent incidents which started on Friday night and continued until the early hours of Sunday.
Cyprus has seen an upsurge in anti-migrant sentiment in recent years, as well as a spike in antisocial behaviour which was formerly restricted to soccer hooliganism and drunken tourists.
The latest disturbances have been fuelled by what advocacy groups say is a fumbled response by the government to a surge in irregular migration and a tolerance of xenophobic rhetoric and behaviour.
State officials frequently say Cyprus is on the frontline of irregular migration in the eastern Mediterranean, though the rate of increase has tapered off this year.
Last week Syrians living in Chlorakas, a village in western Cyprus, were targeted by hooded attackers in sporadic incidents over two days, leading to 22 arrests.
Undeterred, about 500 people moved to the coastal city of Limassol on Friday going on a rampage which targeted foreign-owned businesses and people who did not look Greek Cypriot. Overnight Saturday to Sunday, three people from southeast Asia were attacked and robbed, state media said.
Among the victims were a group of visitors from Kuwait, according to social media accounts of witnesses.
Senior diplomat Kyriakos Kouros said a protest was filed by an ambassador of an unnamed Arab state on Saturday after tourists were targeted.
“They cut short their visit. I doubt they will ever return,” Kouros, Permanent Secretary at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, wrote on the social media platform X on Sunday, posting a picture of the departure of a group at an airport. One member of the group was in a wheelchair.
“It is the first time I have felt so embarrassed about such an incident in our country,” he wrote. “This isn’t the Cyprus I was born, raised, had a family and am getting old in,” he said.
(Writing By Michele Kambas; Editing by Ros Russell)