Island in the Sun
Despite devastation that followed by the Turkish occupation of northern Cyprus in 1974, the so-called “economic miracle” of the late 1970s and 1980s brought growth to the Greek south. A lack of low-skilled laborers prompted Cyprus to open its doors to foreign workers in 1990, abandoning the restrictive immigration policies. In 2004, Cyprus joined the EU. These two factors have lead to a steadily increasing immigration rate on the island over the past two decades.
As growing numbers of people displaced by nearby conflict zones try to reach Europe, the island’s vulnerable populations have also increased, and proven an easy target for exploitation. In hopes of escaping the cycle of poverty and hardship, families and young adults in developing countries sign away their homes or take out high risk loans, all to pay thousands of dollars to so called employment agencies to obtain work visas overseas and so enter Cyprus. For many people, the future looks quite dark and without much to lose, people take the chance when being offered a lucrative job, hoping to reach something better on the other side.
After the oil drilling company in his home region of Gorj, Romania, laid off workers, Ilie was left without income in one of the poorest countries in Europe. Following job leads from his former colleague back home, Ilie saved up for a flight to Cyprus where he was hoping to find better living conditions and financial stability for his wife, son and blind mother who he had left behind. Shortly after his arrival Ilie found work on a construction site, working with heavy machinery, gas and fire, he made about 35 Euros a day.
Working with heavy duty equipment for a construction company, Ilie had a tragic work accident while handling a gas barrel that exploded right in front of him. When Ilie was rushed to the hospital with severe burns, he found out that his employer had stopped paying for his insurance only after a couple of weeks. Despite taking antibiotics and other affordable medicine, the health care he received was insufficient. After a year and a half, his leg is still infected and his daily life is impacted by the injury. Currently he has no income and lives in a barrack without electricity and water. Until his healing is complete, he won't be able to take another job offer. He longs to go home and be with his family.
Many of the foreign workers expect to arrive in Europe's mainland with fairly good integration policies and welcoming communities, but instead are landing on contested lands, where the media and public debate circles around allegations that migrants and asylum seekers receive too many benefits and are responsible for the rise in crime, car accidents, and diseases.
Although the land is divided, the victims of trafficking that are being held by corrupt businesses are regularly trafficked across borders. Ironically, the police and government officials on either end of the conflict do not cooperate, while the mafia on both sides communicates and works well together.