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Our reaction to Gypsies raises some awkward questions
in The Cyprus Mail, April 10, 2001

The Minister of the Interior, Christodoulos Christodoulou, the man burdened with the thankless task of finding somewhere to house the few dozen gypsies who have crossed into the free areas, appears to be at a loss over what to do. His ministry's services had found two locations at which the gypsies could have been housed, but these plans were abandoned after the vociferous reaction of local residents. The residents of Kotsiatis village, outside Nicosia, raised hell when they heard that the gypsies would be housed in an abandoned Turkish Cypriot school, while the Paphians' protests were spearheaded by two deputies from the district.

Speaking on Sunday, Christodoulou said he would not reveal the options being discussed, because, "in this country, when it comes to illegal immigrants or gypsies (moving into an area), everyone reacts". He did say, however, that "we shall take care to move them to an area that is far away from any place where there are people living". Although the minister had described reactions as "excessive" and called for "some measure", he still gave in to the voices of protest. Otherwise, why would his officials be looking for a place, presumably in the middle of nowhere, to house the gypsies?

Is the government's plan to set up a kind of leper colony, miles away from any other community, in which to throw all undesirable visitors such as gypsies and illegal immigrants? This smacks of official racial discrimination and, regrettably, is consistent with the government's policy for dealing with Turkish Cypriots who have arrived from the occupied north. Most have been moved into run-down housing in what used to be known as the Turkish Cypriot quarter of Limassol and can now be described as a Turkish ghetto.

Segregation and the creation of ghettos do not seem to be very practical ways of incorporating outsiders into our society. On the contrary, it keeps them on the fringes of society, with all the negative consequences this may have. If some of the gypsies have the documentation to prove that they are Cypriot citizens, how can the government justify putting them up in some remote area and treating them as third-rate citizens? How will they earn a living if they are miles away from potential workplaces? And how will they become a part of a society that chooses to treat them as lepers?

The implications of this behaviour should be seriously considered by the political leadership, which has been fighting for the re-unification of the island under a federal government for close to three decades. It may just be that Greek Cypriots do not want the re-unification of the island if this means living next door to a Turkish Cypriot. Would the Greek Cypriot public really be as happy as it claims with a solution that guaranteed the three fundamental freedoms--of movement, settlement and property? Would Paphians be happy if the Turkish Cypriots swarmed to their town or would they be holding protest demonstrations to stop them? What would the residents of Kotsiatis say if Turkish Cypriots decided to return to their homes in the village?

These are all hypothetical questions, but should be given some very serious thoughts by our president and party leaders, who see the re-unification of the island through rose-tinted spectacles and dismiss the mere thought of the two communities being separated as tantamount to treachery. Yet the xenophobic reaction to the arrival of a few dozen gypsies would seem to suggest that there is a gulf between what the politicians see as the ideal form of a Cyprus settlement and what Greek Cypriots actually want.


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