Want to support our work? Donate
Skip to content
23 June 2023

Why Cypriots should stand in solidarity with refugees

Refugee Week 2023

This blog trace Cyprus’ history of displacement and being colonised, and explains how this should inform Cypriot solidarity towards refugees.

Displacement + colonial legacies

Cyprus is an island of displaced people and refugees. This displacement was brought about by decades of British divide and rule colonial policies, which turned the inhabitants of the island against each other along imagined ethnic lines. The conflict later culminated in a Greek coup and a Turkish invasion. Britain had a vested interest in Turkey’s invasion, as it would justify their continued military bases on the island and allow them to continue to use Cyprus as a strategic “Middle East” outpost for all their foreign policy invasions

Those responsible for this displacement and suffering have largely evaded accountability to this day. The pain of displacement has also been weaponised by White saviours, and by all those seeking to normalise the partition in Cyprus, through the presentation of fictitious historical narratives that place the blame on fellow Cypriot communities instead of on colonial or guarantor powers. 

Internally displaced persons

Cypriots who fled Cyprus during the invasion would legally be considered refugees, since they have crossed an internationally recognised border. However displaced Cypriots who remained on the island would be considered internally displaced persons (IDPs). Even though displacement has occurred across the border shared between the Republic of Cyprus (ROC) and the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (TRNC), the TRNC is not an internationally recognised state, and so the displacement does not involve an internationally recognised border, meaning that the criteria of refugeehood is not met. Both Cypriot refugees and IDPs are unable to return to their homes. 

Remembering Palestine

In 1947, the UN passed its partition plan for Palestine. In 1948, with the end of the British Mandate over Palestine, Israel was created and the Nakba began. The Nakba refers to the ongoing genocide and displacement of Palestinians from Palestine by Israel, and the beginning of settler-colonialism by Israel. There are millions of Palestinian refugees worldwide, and many remain internally displaced within occupied Palestine, unable to ever return home. 

Whilst the end goal of the Zionist movement was always the colonisation of Palestine, Cyprus had also been considered for additional Zionist occupation, as a stepping stone towards this end goal, and several Zionist plans for the occupation of Cyprus were proposed to this nature. In 1939, a Zionist settlement plan was submitted to the then Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain, and called for “the entire evacuation of the present population of Cyprus”. This differed to previous plans since Cyprus was being proposed as the location of settler colonialism instead of Palestine. These plans were refused.

While these plans failed, they are important to remember. Cyprus is currently experiencing its own form of settler colonialism through the ongoing Turkish invasion and attempts at demographic change. But a hidden and widely forgotten part of our history shows us that our country could have now been the one subjected to Israeli occupation and all the displacement that has caused. 

Solidarity through remembering

Cypriots generally have more social power by virtue of their skin tone, and are afforded greater proximity to Whiteness than other racialised communities, both originating inside and outside of the West Asia region, who have suffered and continue to suffer displacement. The notion of the “model minority” myth is also prevalent amongst Cypriot communities, and it is used to differentiate Cypriots from other racialised communities. This allows us to forget our roots, our history, and makes us aspire to Whiteness. We must remember our histories, and the ways we were treated, and how this has led us to where we are today.

When we speak about solidarity, we mean standing with marginalised communities unconditionally. Solidarity is something that you extend to others at the expense of your own comfort, power and privilege. And solidarity is showing up for others, even if you have not experienced what they have. 

Yet there is something important and revolutionary about solidarity coming from one marginalised group, to another. This is because it is rooted in some kind of empathy, despite the differences between various struggles. It is a personally-informed understanding that we are all harmed and dehumanised by the same oppressive systems, by the same colonial legacies, and that our suffering is coming from the same place. Our liberation as displaced and colonised people can only come through solidarity with each other.

Cypriots should not stand in solidarity with internally displaced people and refugees only because we have also experienced displacement. But since we know the pain of displacement through colonisation, and have experienced the history of our displacement and suffering being weaponised to suit different colonial and revisionist agendas, our solidarity should be instinctual. This is because our solidarity comes from empathy, and from a place of embodied understanding. 

Cyprus has a long history of progressive movements and solidarity with marginalised groups. One example of its empathy-informed solidarity was a letter in 1977 from the Permanent Representative of Cyprus to the UN Secretary General, condemning the settler colonialism in occupied Palestine, and drawing parallels with the ongoing Turkish occupation of Cyprus. Today, both the TRNC and ROC are normalising relationships with Israel, despite our long history of displacement as Cypriots.

Not all skin folk are kin folk. But they should be. Where is our empathy towards other racialised displaced people? Or have we denied our history so much that we have also lost our empathy? It is time to remember.

by Anastasia Gavalas, MRN Comms Officer

We should stand in solidarity with refugees first and foremost out of humanity- regardless of whether or not it is something familiar to us. Understanding something so detrimental, and offering a helping hand/spreading awareness is essential. For Cypriots, this should resonate deeper as our own displacement has been downplayed, and weaponised on the rare occasions that it is recognised.

Sophia, a local Greek-speaking Cypriot

The UN has had it’s longest peacekeeping mission in Cyprus. Communities have been/are displaced for decades, and there is a buffer zone dividing the island up until today.

Cypriot people know pain very well. The right to self-determination, (true) independence, united communities and safety, are feelings that all of us long for, especially Cypriots.

When my dad was forcibly displaced, they had to live in an underground cherry warehouse for a year, and they only got a dirty blanket that people use for covering oregano in order to cover themselves up.

The struggle of being forcibly displaced from your own land is a pain that no one should experience.

Solidarity looks like giving space for people who experienced displacement and adversity, both in the form of physical manifestation and emotional. It’s about listening to their voices and what they need. It’s about standing hand in hand together against arbitrary borders and making sure everyone has a safe and nurturing place with their own terms. For all of these reasons, and many many more, Cypriot people should be at the forefront when it comes to standing in solidarity with all displaced people, everywhere, as their pain is our pain.

a Cypriot diaspora community member