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Cyprus in brief 28/05/2009

Shakalli denies entry to 300 foreign students
By Anna Hassapi
THE PANCYPRIAN Association of Private Higher Education Institutions (PASISTE) yesterday blasted the move on the part of the Immigration Service to deny visas to 300 students who applied to colleges and universities in Cyprus.

The decision is particularly controversial, as the Education Ministry had already approved the same students, assuring PASISTE that they would be granted visas.

"This move compromises our standing because we had already informed these 300 students that they were granted visas - that is what the Education Ministry told us.

"Cyprus' image has also been affected as a result. The Ministry of Education should have communicated with the Immigration Service before giving us an answer," Dr Marios Americanos, President of PASISTE told the Cyprus Mail.

The group of 300 students from countries including India, China, Pakistan and Bangladesh has been getting consistently mixed messages from Cyprus for months.

In January 2009, Education Ministry officers went abroad to hold personal interviews with students and denied visas to a number them, including the group of 300.

According to Americanos, upon returning to Cyprus, these officers admitted that they were too strict. After reviewing the students' documents for a second time, the ministry agreed to grant the 300 students their visas.

The students' ordeal, however, did not end there. After being told that they have been granted their visas, the Immigration Service issued a decision that prevented their entry to Cyprus.

"At the interview, they checked the students' documents and those who were in order were given a visa then and there.

"Approximately 600 candidates whose papers were in order did not receive the visa. This was the first time that Education Ministry officers (travelled overseas to conduct interviews), so when they returned they expressed the opinion that they may have been too strict.

"They asked us to send them a list with those students whom we believed should have received a visa. From that list, the ministry approved 300 students after reviewing their documents for a second time," Americanos explained.

However, when the matter went to the Immigration Service, its Director refused to issue the visas based on the opinion that decisions should not be reviewed and on the fact that some of the students' documents had since expired.

The documents had expired - for the simple reason that they were valid in January 2009 when the interviews were taking place.

"The relevant law does not provide for the re-examination of applications, which is why we did not accept the Education Ministry's decision to review the 300 applications," said Anni Shakalli, Director of Immigration .

"Although these students were not approved for the summer semester, they can re-apply if they wish for the fall semester," Shakalli added.

The decision infuriated PASISTE as it showed a lack of co-ordination between the Interior and Education Ministries.

"It is unacceptable that the Education Ministry admitted they were too strict, asked us to submit documents, approved 300 students - and then another ministry came and said something else.

"We will request a meeting with Shakalli as she is the only one with the authority on this matter," Americanos said.

PASISTE also plans aims to raise the issue of Cyprus' policy on the procedure for accepting foreign students.

Although the government has a stated objective to transform Cyprus into a regional and international training and education centre, the practices and policies of the Immigration Service are perceived as unproductive by the college-owners.

"We recently brought the issue before the House Interior Committee, where we explained what happens in other countries such as the UK and Iceland.

"These countries are genuinely concerned with the essence of the matter, which is to check that documents are genuine.

"In Cyprus, however, they focus on having a number of stamps on each document. This does not guarantee that a document is genuine, and also unfairly excludes students from countries where Cyprus does not have an embassy or consulate," Americanos said

"We are not seeking a relaxation in the verification procedure. They should continue to be strict, but in a correct and effective way, which is not presently the case.

"The general attitude of the Immigration Service is definitely affecting Cyprus' chances of becoming an educational centre. Although that is a stated objective of the government, these policies are not helping in any way," he added.



Stopped by police for taking petrol money from a friend
By Stefanos Evripidou
A BRITISH man who dropped off a friend at Paphos Airport was harassed and abused by police who accused him of operating as an unlicensed taxi driver, claimed a 43-year-old resident of Cyprus yesterday.

David Roach, a Paphos resident for the last seven years, had just dropped off the daughter of a friend at the airport at 1pm yesterday when a taxi driver accused him of operating illegal taxi rides to the airport all week.

"A taxi driver started shouting at me, accused me of coming every day this week. Before I knew it, two taxi drivers and around eight policemen surrounded me, claiming it was illegal to take people to the airport for money," said Roach.

The unsuspecting motorist had attracted the interest of nearby taxi drivers and police officers when his ride handed him some money for petrol.

"I have been to the airport two times in the last six months. Once last Wednesday when I picked up my friend's daughter, as he's not very well at the moment, and today (yesterday) when I took her back to the airport.

"I was helping out a friend. The daughter innocently gave me some money for the petrol when I dropped her off. I didn't ask her for it, but when she offered I said thank you. I won't say no to petrol money," said Roach.

However, according to the British national, this did not stick with the police who insisted on taking him down to the station for questioning.

"Eight cops and two taxi drivers all came up to me. The police superior was very abusive to me. I told him I'd done nothing wrong and was perfectly capable of getting in my car and driving off.

"They wanted me to go down to the station with them. I said if you're not arresting me, then I don't want to go. The man in charge threatened to take me anyway if I left."

Eventually, the police let him go, but not before booking him for an expired road tax.

"They kept me there approximately 25-30 minutes. They took my details and address, and said it could go to court. If it does, I will make a right farce of it. I have a white two-door Pajero, it's not exactly a commercial use car," said Roach.

The 43-year-old questioned the heavy-handed tactics of the police, who refused to reveal their names. He added that the behaviour of the police and taxi drivers would not encourage people to return to the island, or to take taxis.

"Cyprus is low on tourism. Friends coming over to visit are a big part of tourism. Perfectly innocent people seeing this will say why should I come back. I certainty won't take a taxi again. Everything I did was within my rights, it's not illegal to take petrol money," he said.

Asked whether he knew the taxi driver in question who made the accusations that led to the police intervention, he replied: "I'm an entertainer and this taxi driver has seen me sing my heart out in bars. I don't know what made him think I was taking his business."


Unconfirmed suspected case of H1N1 flu in Cyprus
By Charles Charalambous
CYPRUS may have its first suspected case of H1N1 flu, state broadcaster CyBC reported last night.

The as yet unconfirmed suspected case involves a young female student at Edinburgh University who returned home recently. According to the CyBC report, she had started to display light symptoms of common flu on Sunday, and after these got worse she decided to go to the Accident and Emergency department of Nicosia General Hospital yesterday afternoon.

After being examined, she was said to be displaying symptoms that "matched" those of "the case under investigation" according to a Health Ministry statement quoted by CyBC yesterday evening.

"It was therefore deemed advisable to admit the particular case to the special ward set up [for potential H1N1 flu cases] at Limassol General Hospital. Samples have been taken for the necessary laboratory tests, and the patient is receiving suitable treatment", said Christalla Hadjianastassiou, who heads up the Health Ministry's special committee handling the H1N1 flu.

It will only be known if the young woman has H1N1 flu when the tests results are received, which will be "within 48 hours at the latest", Hadjianastassiou said.

Limassol Hospital Director Chrisostomos Andronicou said last night that there is no cause for concern, as the case in question is "not even regarded as a suspected flu case at this stage". The young woman is "simply under observation at Limassol General Hospital for 24 to 48 hours so we can see how things develop", he added.


Strike threat by UK airline could cause holiday misery
By Nathan Morley
A BRITISH airline preparing to ferry thousands of tourists to Cyprus this summer could be forced to cancel holiday flights.

Low-cost carrier Monarch Airlines, which flies to both Paphos and Larnaca, faces industrial action at the height of the tourist season in July.

The threat comes after the powerful aviation union Unite prepares to ballot more than 600 cabin crew over pay.

Unite is urging Monarch to pay its members a lump sum, which can be deferred until next year, rather than give them a pay rise.

Brian Boyd from Unite said any strike will cause severe disruption for holidaymakers and travellers.

"Monarch faces the prospect of a crippling strike at the height of the holiday season. The requests of our members are reasonable and are in line with similar negotiations with the other industry operators."

Should the strike go ahead, it will come as grim news to tourism chiefs as the current season is proving to be one of the most difficult for Cyprus, following the global economic slowdown.

Only yesterday, President Christofias said that tourist arrivals this year decreased by 9.8 per cent, compared to last year's figures.

A spokesman for Monarch Airlines said its senior management is in talks with staff and unions.

"Given the current economic situation and its impact on the aviation industry, pay increases and additional benefits for employees are unachievable at the present time." He said.

Monarch has become a popular choice for both expats and tourists since starting scheduled services from Luton to Larnaca in 2007.

The company picked up many new customers in Cyprus last year after the collapse of XL Airways.

In addition to Cyprus, Monarch operates scheduled flights to Spain, Gibraltar and Portugal from Birmingham, London Gatwick, London Luton and Manchester airports.

Last year the carrier flew over six million people to more than 100 destinations worldwide.


NHS plan has insurance companies worried
By Anna Hassapi
THE CYPRUS Association of Insurance Companies (CAIC) yesterday expressed concern over the reported absence of transparency and open dialogue in the drafting of a national health bill in Cyprus.

The CAIC also questioned the estimated cost of a plan that is based on a study conducted in 2002.

"Considerations such as longevity, the rapid technological advances in the area of healthcare and the huge increase in medical costs are serious challenges faced on an international scale by national health plans and at a period of international financial crisis, serious thought should be assigned to them," said Stefi Drakou, President of the CAIC.

According to Drakou, the process of putting together a National Health System in Cyprus suffers from lack of transparency as important stakeholders, including insurance companies, are not included in the dialogue.

"Last summer a study was performed for the Health Insurance Organisation, for which our association has not been officially informed.

"This is an indication of the lack of transparency that exists on the creation of the NHS. Our association has never been called to submit our opinion on the plan, even though we are the biggest buyer of health services, with ?40 million in 2008," she said.

Based on the CAIC's statistics, the private health sector is widely growing in Cyprus as its revenue has increased from ?29 million in 2004 to ?69 million in 2008.

"These figures indicate that people are turning more and more to the private sector," Drakou said.

The CAIC would like to see a re-orientation of the health plan that would allow the smooth co-existence of public and private health plans.

"We are in favour of a national health plan that brings a substantial improvement to the quality of medical care through the implementation of a correct legal framework.

"It is imperative that a new study is held based on new realities, and that the correct environment is developed to allow the co-existence of private and public health plans, while there is a higher probability for success if it is implemented gradually."

Copyright © Cyprus Mail 2009

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