A refugee crisis or a crisis of anti-immigrant politics? Hostile refugee reception, the pandemic and new solidarities in Cyprus

Nicos Trimikliniotis, Vassilis Tsianos

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapterpeer-review


This chapter examines the challenges for grassroots social work that emerge when states fail or refuse to meet basic requirements for the protection of asylum-seekers, or when states choose to neglect or even expel them, thereby generating a racialised hostile environment. It focuses on de facto divided Cyprus, examining issues pertaining to overcoming the ethnic and racial discrimination faced by migrants and asylum-seekers. During the COVID-19 pandemic, measures were introduced which have had a lasting effect in reshaping the rights of citizens and non-citizens, exacerbating old divisions and contradictions and configuring new ones. As a result, we have seen the derogation of rights, as well as the resurgence of racist ideologies. This has impacted intensively on the rights of non-citizens (asylum-seekers, refugees and migrants). It is important to understand these current processes in historical context. Since British colonial times, official state-sanctioned social work in Cyprus has been one of complicity rather than resistance. Social work was shaped by the history of the country’s political conflict and socioeconomic development. With independence in 1960, social work was reshaped by the protracted ethnic conflict (1963–74) leading up to the 1974 coup by the Greek junta and invasion by Turkish troops that resulted in the de facto division of the country. The north of the island, which is majority Turkish Cypriot and de facto governed by the non-recognised Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus remains economically less prosperous than the south. The south is majority Greek Cypriot and hosts the internationally recognised government of the Republic of Cyprus. Efforts to resolve the Cyprus problem have failed and, as a result, peace is maintained via a United Nations-controlled buffer zone (called ‘the Green Line’); except for a few checkpoints that allow for crossings, the Green Line has strong military presence on both sides but is the main entry point for asylum-seekers. Cyprus has seen an unprecedented growth in the numbers of asylum applications as other routes to the EU, such as the Aegean Sea, have become blocked. These are major factors reshaping social work, both the complicit practice as well as the non-state social-work-as-resistance.

The story of migration and asylum is a major issue in Cyprus and is influenced by geographical factors, the division of the country and the troubled Cyprus–Greece–Turkey triangle. This is the context that social work ‘from below’ is emerging contra to the state-sponsored social work, which is either outright hostile or simply failing at moments of necessity. We are witnessing praxis-based initiatives, manifested in the form of solidarity work emerging out of a humanitarian crisis. The chapter explores the potential for solidarity on the ground in Cyprus and examines the processes of remaking radical social work and politics from below.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationSocial Work’s Histories of Complicity and Resistance: A Tale of Two Professions
EditorsVassilios Ioakimidis, Aaron Wyllie
Place of PublicationBristol
PublisherPolicy Press, Bristol University
Number of pages20
ISBN (Print)9781447364306
Publication statusPublished - 25 May 2023


  • social work from below
  • Complicity
  • racial discrimination
  • Ethnic discrimination
  • refugies
  • solidarity
  • hostile environment
  • socialities


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