NICOSIA – Cypriot Interior Minister Socratis Hasikos is under fire for saying his government prefers to take in only Christian refugees as the problem mounts for the European Union.
With hundreds of thousands of immigrants and refugees fleeing strife in the Middle East, Asia and North Africa – most bypassing Cyprus – Hasikos had said the island, comprised predominantly of Greek Orthodox Christians on the side not controlled by Turkey, believes Christians would find it easier to assimilate.
He said Cyprus was willing to take in only 300 as the EU struggles to set quotas for the refugees, most arriving in Greece and Italy on rickety, overcrowded boats and rubber dinghies, many of which have sunk with the loss of more than 2,800 lives this year.
Hasikos said the island’s size meant that its reception capacity was limited. Hasikos, responsible for migration policy, told state radio: “We have already stated that 260, a maximum of 300, people can be taken in … everyone (EU member states) should pitch in.
“We would seek for them to be Orthodox Christians … it’s not an issue of being inhuman or not helping if we are called upon, but to be honest, yes, that’s what we would prefer.”
He said it would be much easier for Christians to adjust to life in Cyprus but that prompted an outcry on social media, forcing him to clarify his statements.
Hasikos said Cyprus has proven in practice, not only its readiness, but also its effective humanitarianism without religious or ethnic discrimination, the Cyprus Mail said.
He added that as part of EU discussions on refugee quotas, “specific parameters have been set” regarding the selection criteria.
At least five other EU member states have publicly said that they would prefer to take in Christian refugees for practical reasons, as it is easier for them to integrate into host societies.
Hasikos said this was what he meant “and I think any other interpretation and or misunderstanding of my comments would be unfair and taken in bad faith.”
Slovakia and the Czech Republic have also said they would prefer Christians under any EU resettlement scheme for migrants fleeing the Middle East.