Cypriot migration

Cypriot colonial citizenship and UK immigration controls, 1920s-1950s

This week, the citizenship of Cypriots as part of the British Empire/Commonwealth (prior to Cypriot independence in 1960) has been the subject of debate in the Australian media, thanks to the controversy surrounding Senator Nick Xenophon. My colleague Andrekos Varnava and I have worked on the question of Cypriot citizenship during the colonial era and the subsequent control of Cypriot migration to Britain between the 1920s and the 1950s. The following is based on a much longer article forthcoming with English Historical Review.

The British saw the Cypriot community as a particular problem because of their perceived criminal activities as well as their links to communism and anti-colonialism. The British authorities sought to monitor and control the Cypriot community in London and restrict further numbers from immigrating to Britain through a number of measures in Cyprus, despite the fact that Cypriots were British subjects. At this time, no other colonial group was subjected to such restrictions. The Colonial Office implemented the migration restrictions at the point of departure (i.e. in Cyprus), not because there was disagreement over trying to restrict Cypriots entering the UK, but because this was the most practical way of doing it and the Home Office did not want to implement a point of arrivals system, which could draw criticism from various quarters in the UK.

Most immigration history scholars have overlooked the migration of Cypriots to Britain prior to the Second World War. The British occupied Cyprus in 1878, but Cypriots did not become British subjects until 1914 when Britain annexed the island from the Ottoman Empire when it joined the Central Powers.[1] Cypriots started emigrating to Britain and other destinations after the war.[2] In 1921 the British census showed that there were only 316 Cypriots in England and Wales (105 in London), but by 1931 there were 1,059 (734 in London).[3] Additionally, between 1923 and 1931 the Cypriot government issued 10,000 passports to Cypriots declaring an interest to emigrate to the UK, indicating that most did not take up the option, that there was some travel back and forth from the UK and Cyprus or perhaps a third destination, such as the US.[4]

Cypriots emigrated because, with a rise in population since the British arrival in 1878, rural poverty manifested given the lack of agricultural development and employment in towns, and Cypriots, especially men, took-up the emigration possibilities presented after the Great War.[5]

Amongst the earlier migrants in the inter-war period were sailors working in the East End docks, students and lace merchants, but as time went on more and more unskilled labourers emigrated, and they ended up in the food and hotel service industry in London, mostly working in establishments owned by the Cypriot community in London’s West End.[6]

After the 1931 riots in Cyprus, when government house had been burned to the ground and a British crackdown on both the nationalist right and the communist left followed, the number of migrants increased. Those leaving the island included many political activists, especially left-wing, who were exiled or fleeing the British crackdown. Until 1936, the majority of those coming to Britain were young male Greek Cypriots, but between 1936 and the outbreak of the war, the number of women and children increased so that by 1938 there were more women and children arriving than men, partly because of the restrictions in place and because the women and children were coming over to husbands and fathers.[7] By 1939 there were between 7-8,000 Cypriots in the UK, mostly living within a small borough in the central West End of London.[8]

As Cypriots became British subjects after the annexation of 1914, they were allowed to enter (except men of military age from 1916-9 and subject to the controls outlined above from 1935), reside and work in the UK without restrictions.[9] So the British authorities sought to prevent Cypriots from arriving in Britain. The Colonial Office asked the Home Office if legislation could be introduced to prevent Cypriots from migrating to Britain, but the Home Office refused. Dawe explained:

…they could introduce legislation, but I imagine that the political objections to this may be so great as to make impracticable for them to do so even if they, as a Department, desired it. After all, the right of a British subject to enter this country, provided he can establish his national status by means of his passport, is something more than a mere question of administrative advantage. It is an important and fundamental right under our political system;[10]

The Home Office told the Colonial Office that migration controls at the British port of entry could not be introduced to target Cypriots and that the government was not considering wider controls. This did not mean that the Home Office did not agree that a problem existed, since they were involved in regulating the community, but it meant that the Colonial Office was alone in implementing migration controls, which it could only do at the point of departure.

These first appeared in 1935. The British limited the number of passports issued to Cypriots intending to travel to Britain. To obtain a passport for Britain, Cypriots had to present proof of employment in the UK and pay a bond (in case they had to be repatriated), along the same lines as had been suggested in 1931. But Cypriot authorities soon complained that many Cypriots obtained passports ‘for travel to Greece or somewhere, and then proceeding to England by a devious route.’[11]

Soon more conditions were introduced. By 1937, passports were only issued to applicants who could prove they could speak English, were able to a pay a bond of £30 and an affidavit showing they had employment in Britain.[12] Oakley explained that one of the duties of the Cypriot Liaison Officer, established by the Home Office to maintain relationships between the ‘leaders’ of the Cypriot community and the British government, was to enquire into the bona fides of each applicant and recommend to the Colonial Office whether a passport should be issued.[13] This reduced but did not stop all Cypriot migration, while the demographic make-up of emigrants changed, with more women and children coming in the late 1930s. This was celebrated by the British authorities, as the Liaison Officer explained in 1939:

I attribute the improvement in behaviour largely to the recent immigration of Cypriot womenfolk which has enabled a number of the men to settle down to quiet family life instead of wasting their time and money gambling at dog races or in the cafes.[14]

The British also used passport facilities to monitor and impede movement of suspected communists between Cyprus and Britain. On the advice of the Liaison Officer, at least one suspected communist (and pro-enosist), Kyriacos Pavlou Rossides, was the subject of a refusal order in 1937.[15] Earlier in 1931, the Cypriot government and the Colonial Secretary debated whether to refuse a passport to CPC leading figure Haralambos Vatiliotis (Vatis), a Cypriot British subject who wished to revisit the Soviet Union. Although the Cypriot government was unsure ‘whether a British subject [could] be prevented from leaving the country because he has not got a passport’, the Colonial Office confirmed that the Governor had the power to grant or withhold passport facilities and therefore Vatiliotis’ passport was retained, ‘justified by the public interest.’[16] This debate was then nullified when after the 1931 riots Vatiliotis was deported to Britain.[17]

The outbreak of the Second World War stopped the movement of Cypriots to Britain on a significant scale, although migration restarted after the war. Until the late 1950s, Cyprus was the third largest country of origin of Commonwealth migrants after the West Indies and India and was only passed by Pakistan in 1957. Between 1955 and July 1962, around 24,000 Cypriots migrated to Britain.[18] In this era of large scale African, Caribbean and Asian migration, Cypriots were seen as more ‘desirable’ and there was less hostility towards them than other Commonwealth migrants.[19] Yet the restrictions imposed in the 1930s remained until the Commonwealth Immigrant Act of 1962. This was understood by the British political elites in the lead-up to the act. In a 1959 debate in the House of Lords on restricting colonial immigrants at their point of departure, Lord Chesham (John Cavendish), a Tory Peer, explained that ‘in Cyprus prospective immigrants to this country are required to produce affidavits by persons in this country guaranteeing their support and accommodation.’[20]

John Solomos and Stephen Woodhams argued that the British used border control techniques first employed against Cypriots in the 1930s against broader Commonwealth migration in the 1950s and 1960s.[21] Viewing immigration as a social problem that needed limiting, the restrictions imposed on the Cypriots in the 1930s paved the way for the argument that ‘good race relations’ was achieved by ensuring that ethnic minorities remained as minorities and that strict immigration control was necessary to ensure this. The Cypriot case was a prototype for other cases after the Second World War. The closest examples to the Cypriot case were the border controls on Indians and Pakistanis, with Ian R.G. Spencer writing, ‘Cyprus provided a testing-ground for a set of practices that were widely applied in the Indian sub-continent.’[22] Following the Cypriot immigration restrictions of the 1930s, under the Commonwealth Immigrants Act 1962, only those with government-issued employment vouchers could settle in the UK.

 

[1]Andrekos Varnava, British Imperialism in Cyprus, 1878-1915: The Inconsequential Possession (Manchester, 2009), pp. 262-5.

[2]See CO67/204/46764; and CO67/207/19844, Stevenson to Churchill, 14 Apr. 1922, containing Annual Report for 1922 by J. M. Ellis, Chief Secretary’s Office.

[3]Robin Oakley, ‘Cypriot Migration to Britain prior to World War II’, Journal of Ethnic and Migration Studies, 15(3), 1989, p. 513; For 1921, the number of Cypriots is given as 334 in Vic George and Geoffrey Millerson, ‘The Cypriot Community in London’, Race & Class, 8, 1967, pp. 277.

[4]CO67/237/7, Storrs to Passfield, 9 Apr. 1931.

[5]Rolandos Katsiaounis, ‘Η Κυπριακή Παροικία του Λονδίνου και το Αρχιεπισκοπικό Ζήτημα της Κύπρου, 1928-1936’, Annual of the Centre for Scientific Research (Nicosia), 22, 1996, p. 521; Nicolas Manitakis and Michalis N. Michael, ‘Cypriot Emigration to the United States of America (1910 to 1930)’, Chronos, 30, 2014, pp. 99-143.

[6]Oakley, ‘Cypriot Migration to Britain prior to World War II’, pp. 515-6.

[7]Oakley, ‘Cypriot Migration to Britain prior to World War II’, p. 520.

[8]Ibid; and George and Millerson, ‘The Cypriot Community in London’, p. 277.

[9]Ian R.G. Spencer, British Immigration Policy since 1939: The Making of Multi-Racial Britain (London, 2002), pp. 11-2.

[10]CO 67/258/7, Note from Dawe, 2 Jan., 1935.

[11]FCO 141/2523, Acting Colonial Secretary to All Commissioners, 2 Apr. 1936.

[12]Oakley, ‘The Control of Cypriot Migration to Britain Between the Wars’, p. 39.

[13]Ibid.

[14]FCO 141/2554, Thorne to Colonial Secretary, 16 Jan. 1939, p. 4.

[15]CO 67/275/4, Handwritten note from A.R. Thomas to J.B. Williams, 11 Aug. 1937.

[16]See CO 67/240/3.

[17]Heinz Richter, ‘The Cypriot Communist Party and the Comintern’, The Cyprus Review, 15(2), 2003, p. 109.

[18]Hansard, 18 Mar., 1965, col. 311w.

[19]Robert Winder, Bloody Foreigners: The Story of Immigration to Britain (London, 2006) pp. 360-1.

[20]Hansard (Lords), 12 Mar., 1959, col. 1204.

[21]John Solomos & Stephen Woodhams, ‘The Politics of Cypriot Migration to Britain’, Immigrants & Minorities, 14(3), 1995, pp. 251-4.

[22]Spencer, British Immigration Policy since 1939, p. 23.

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Policing the Cypriot community in London: Creating a “suspect community” in the inter-war period

Last year I announced that my colleague and I had been awarded a Faculty Research Grant to begin a project titled ‘Monitoring a “suspect community” in the UK: The colonialist origins of the national/border security nexus and interwar London’s Cypriot community’. While in the UK recently, I attended the Crime and Deviance in the 20th Century Conference at the University of Lincoln and presented this paper on our initial research. Please find below an abridged version of the conference paper. As usual, we welcome any feedback, criticisms or questions.

In January 1933, Michael Kyriakides, a Cypriot chef in Soho, was charged with unlawful possession of a firearm. The magistrate, R. E. Dummett, wanted to convict Kyriakides, who had a prior conviction for assault, and asked the detective-sergeant: ‘There is no means by which we can get these men [Cypriots] out of the country?’ When the detective-sergeant answered that they were British subjects, Dummett retorted: ‘The British Colonies do not hesitate to send back anyone they do not want to this country. This is the tragedy. They are doing no good to themselves, and they are a perpetual menace and a nuisance’.[1] The magistrate was clearly airing a widespread notion amongst the police and the judiciary in London that the local Cypriot Orthodox Christian community was a ‘problem’. Deportation, Dummett’s solution to the problem, was not at a legal option, but the British authorities adopted other strategies, such as police surveillance and the control of immigration, which certainly bent the laws.

This paper aims to explore why during the 1930s the British authorities focused on the relatively small Cypriot community in London as one of deviance that needed to be monitored and controlled. We argue that Cypriots were seen as a particular problem for the British because of their criminal activities as well as their links to communism and anti-colonialism. For these combined reasons, the British authorities viewed the Cypriot migrant population as a ‘suspect community’, resulting in intense surveillance by the police and the security services, as well as controls on Cypriots trying to enter the country.

Taking the terminology coined by Paddy Hillyard,[2] and developed by Christina Pnatazis and Chris Pemberton, a ‘suspect community’ can be defined as:

a sub-group of the population that is singled out for state attention as being ‘problematic’. Specifically in terms of policing, individuals may be targeted, not necessarily as a result of suspected wrong doing, but simply because of their presumed membership to that sub-group.[3]

This concept is not only useful for contemporary analysis of counter-terrorism policing, but can also be used to analyse how various ethnic minority groups have been policed in earlier times. We would argue that the Cypriots in London were precisely singled out for their criminal and communist deviancy in the inter-war period and that this led to extensive monitoring and control over the relatively small community.

Cypriot crime in inter-war London

John Solomos and Stephen Woodhams wrote that the British characterised the Cypriot migrant as ‘a young single male, unskilled, poorly educated, of suspect morality and prone to petty crime’.[4] However it was not just petty crime, with several high profile murders occurring in the early 1930s amongst the migrant community and the establishments of the community becoming increasingly notorious for forms of organised crime, such as gambling and prostitution rackets. By looking at newspaper reports from the period, between 1931 and 1934 no less than three men were sentenced to death after being found guilty of murder, while in a fourth murder of the prominent Cypriot, Dr Zemenides, committed in 1933, the accused, also a Cypriot, was acquitted. Meanwhile a Metropolitan Police report from October 1933 stated that in the past 12 months the Marlborough Street police Court had seen Cypriots charged with the following offences: murder, breaking and entering, larceny, possessing a revolver, assault, indecent assault, living on immoral earnings, indecency, cruelty, obstructing footway and drunkenness.[5]

Charges against Cypriots brought before the Marlborough Street Police Court (Oct. 1932 – Oct. 1933)

Murder   1

Breaking and entering  2

Larceny  5

Possessing revolver   1

Assault and wounding   3

Suspected person   1

Indecent assault on female  2

Living on immoral earnings  2

Indecency  3

Cruelty   1

Obstructing footway   16

Drunkenness  4

(Letter from C.E. Campton to W. Collins, 8 October, 1933, CO 67/260/7, National Archives, London)

The accusation that Cypriots were involved in organised crime was also widespread amongst the authorities and the press, particularly with regards to prostitution. The location of Cypriots in London’s red light district caused concern for police in the capital,[6] with the Metropolitan Police reporting:

There is no doubt… that venereal disease is rife amongst these Cypriots, and strange to say they seem to have some fascination for white women, and they can often be seen in their cafes in the company of white women, usually of the prostitute type.[7]

The most significant case involving Cypriots in the 1930s was the assasination of a leading figure within the Cypriot community, Dr Angelos Zemenides, in January 1933. Zemenides was a prominent spokesperson for the community and had formed, with British government support, the Christian Cypriot Brotherhood of St. Barnabas, which had been established for the purpose of counteracting the appeal of communism within the Cypriot diaspora. While Zemenides supported British rule in Cyprus, after his death the Colonial Office became concerned that the Brotherhood had become a safe-house for right-wing enosis supporters[8] and was a source of tension within the Cypriot community. Zemenides was a supporter of the exiled Greek monarchy and a staunch anti-communist, with the newspapers speculating as to whether he was involved with the security services. The Daily Express stated:

It was common talk among a certain section of Greeks in London that Dr Zemenides was a secret service agent. He had great ideas for the return of the monarchy to Greece.[9]

On the other hand, the Daily Worker (the paper of the Communist Party of Great Britain) called him ‘an agent of imperialism’, claiming:

The dead man was a notorious imperialist and known as such to Cypriots and Greeks the world over. In Cyprus itself his activities on behalf of the British there so enraged the Cypriots that he was forced to leave hurriedly.[10]

Zemenides was shot in his home in Hampstead and a wide investigation amongst the Cypriot community followed. The widespread investigation into this supposedly politically motivated murder by the Metropolitan Police led many left-wing and anti-colonial sympathisers within the Cypriot community to believe that the murder was being used as a cover for stricter monitoring of communists amongst the Cypriot population.

The threat of communism and the monitoring of the Cypriot community

DW2

Alongside the perceived criminality of the Cypriot community in London, the British authorities were very concerned about the number of communist sympathisers there were amongst the Cypriots and the championing of anti-colonial activism in this diaspora community. In the case of Cyprus, the Communist Party of Great Britain, as a representative of the Communist International (Comintern), surprisingly supported the notion of enosis (the joining of Cyprus to Greece) – a position later associated with right-wing politics.

Although a minority of Cypriots joined the Communist Party because of its support for enosis, the majority of those who did join the CPGB were committed communists. This was influenced by the type of migrant that was leaving the island, mainly men from the peasant and labouring class, who were then employed at the lowest levels of the food and other industries in London. Meanwhile, the deportation of leading Cypriot communists in 1931 swelled the ranks of the Cypriot communists in London. Cypriot communists in London were very active in both the Cypriot Branch of the Workers International Relief and in the League against Imperialism, both of which were affiliated with the Communist Party of Great Britain.

The prominence of communists in the London Cypriot community was a more intensive watch placed upon them by the authorities, particularly the Metropolitan Police Special Branch and MI5. The Daily Worker frequently reported on the police and Colonial Office persecution of Cypriot workers in London. For example, in January 1933 (at the start of the Zemenides case) the Daily Worker reported on British ‘attempts to muzzle Cypriots’ in London by breaking up protests against the Governor of Cyprus and establishing the Brotherhood of St Barnabas.[11] The police persecution was linked to the growing anti-Cypriot feeling, which the Daily Worker took the lead in condemning. On 6 November 1933 it reported on ‘Cypriots Hit Out at Slanders: Dirty Yellow Press Attack on Workers’. Cypriot workers in London were indignant, the newspaper claimed, at the report in a Sunday newspaper that claimed the Cypriots in London were so bad that a ‘special squad of detectives’ was involved in rounding them up and searching them for arms.

As mentioned before, archival records from Kew show that both the Metropolitan Police and the security services were involved in policing the Cypriot community in London and kept them under considerable monitoring throughout the 1930s. The small geographic area that the Cypriot community lived in helped the police monitor activities within the community and the various locations inhabited by Cypriots. This allowed the police to perform wide sweeps of the community looking particular offenders, as demonstrated with the investigation following the murder of Zemenides. MI5 were particularly interested in communists within the Cypriot community and we know of several Cypriot CPGB members who were monitored by the security services. The Metropolitan Police report that we cited earlier also complained about the number of Cypriots reading and selling newspapers such as the Daily Worker and Russia Today.[12]

The control of Cypriot migration to Britain

As well as policing the Cypriot community in London, the British authorities also attempted to stem migration from Cyprus – thirty years before other Commonwealth migrants were subject to immigration control. Cyprus had become part of the British Empire in 1914 and from this date, all Cypriots based on the island became British subjects. During the interwar period, all British subjects were allowed to enter, reside and work in the UK without restrictions, so the British authorities sought to prevent Cypriots from arriving in Britain. The Colonial Office asked the Home Office whether legislation could be introduced to prevent Cypriots from migrating to Britain, but the Home Office refused. As Assistant Under-Secretary for the Colonial Offie, Arthur Dawe, explained:

It may be said they could introduce legislation, but I imagine that the political objections to this may be so great as to make impracticable for them to do so even if they, as a Department, desired it. After all, the right of a British subject to enter this country, provided he can establish his national status by means of his passport, is something more than a mere question of administrative advantage. It is an important and fundamental right under our political system;[13]

The British attempted to prevent Cypriots from travelling to Britain by limiting the number of passports issued to them in Cyprus. To obtain such a passport Cypriots had to present proof of employment in the UK and pay a bond. By 1937, passports were only issued to applicants who could prove they could speak English, were able to a pay a bond of £30 and an affidavit showing they had employment in Britain.[14] This did not stop all Cypriot migration, but numbers were lowered and the demographic make-up of who was travelling to Britain changed, with a larger number of women and children coming in the late 1930s.

Conclusion

The outbreak of the Second World War stopped Cypriot migration to Britain, although it stepped up again in the early 1950s, alongside a wider wave of Commonwealth migration from the West Indies, West Africa and the Indian subcontinent. As Solomos and Woodhams have argued, the British were able to use border control techniques first employed against Cypriots in the 1930s against broader Commonwealth migration thirty years later under the claim that ‘good race relations’ required strict immigration control. Taking Solomos and Woodhams’ argument further, we believe that the way in which the British authorities policed, monitored and controlled the movement of Cypriots stemmed from viewing the Cypriot population in London as a ‘suspect community’ and helped inform much wider national/border security practices, used against other ethnic minorities in the post-war era.

—————————————————-

[1]The Times, 20 January 1933, 4.

[2] Paddy Hillyard, Suspect Community: People’s Experiences of the Prevention of Terrorism Acts in Britain London: Pluto Press, 1993).

[3] Christina Pantazis & Simon Pemberton, ‘From the “Old” to the “New” Suspect Community:

Examining the Impact of Recent UK Counter-Terrorist Legislation’, British Journal of Criminology, 49 (2009) p. 649.

[4] John Solomos & Stephen Woodhams, ‘The Politics of Cypriot Migration to Britain’, Immigrants & Minorities, 14/3 (1995) p. 233.

[5] Letter from C.E. Campton to W. Collins, 8 October, 1933, CO 67/260/7, NA.

[6] Robin Oakley, ‘The Control of Cypriot Migration to Britain Between the Wars’, Immigrants & Minorities, 6/1 (1987) p. 31.

[7] Letter from C.E. Campton to W. Collins, 8 October, 1933.

[8] ‘Memorandum’, 19 February, 1936, FCO 141/2523, NA.

[9]Daily Express, 4 January 1933, 2d.

[10]Daily Worker, 5 January 1933, 2d.

[11] Daily Worker, 13 January 1933, 4.

[12] Letter from C.E. Campton to W. Collins, 8 October, 1933.

[13] Note from A.J. Dawe, 2 January,1935, CO 67/258/7, NA.

[14] Oakley, ‘The Control of Cypriot Migration to Britain Between the Wars’, p. 39.

New project: Monitoring Cypriots in 1930s London

I am very pleased announce that my colleague, Dr Andrekos Varnava and I, have just been awarded a Faculty Research Grant by Flinders University to undertake a new research project, titled ‘Monitoring a ‘suspect community’ in the UK: The colonialist origins of the national/border security nexus and interwar London’s Cypriot community’. Here is the outline of the project:

The main aim of this project is to examine why and how the British authorities during the inter-war years monitored the Cypriot community in London and what impact this had on broader British immigration policy. It is our hypothesis that the Cypriot community in the UK became a focus point for the British security services, the Metropolitan Police and the Colonial Office because they were deemed to be ‘deviant’ in two ways: a) involved in criminal activities, such as gambling, robbery, prostitution, and others forms of organised crime; b) involved in subversive political activity, primarily links with the Communist Party of Great Britain and the Community Party of Cyprus. Both these ‘deviant’ characteristics not only singled-out the Cypriots for surveillance, but brought into question the migration of other Cypriots to Britain. The project will undertake an examination of National Archive documents relating to the Colonial Office, the Security Services, the Home Office and the Metropolitan Police to explore how the Cypriot community in London was characterised as ‘deviant’ and transformed into a ‘suspect community’ that needed to be closely monitored and regulated.

By looking at the ways in which the British authorities restricted and monitored the movement of Cypriots to the UK and also within the country, we seek to propose an answer to why Cypriots were singled out for immigration control 30-40 years before other British colonial subjects. We will argue that the focus upon the Cypriot community created what criminologists and security studies scholars have described as a ‘suspect community’, which creates the conditions for discriminatory practices to be inflicted upon the community, yet normalised by the authorities and wider society. 

This combines my research into the British left and UK immigration controls with Andrekos’ research on the colonial administration of Cyprus within the British Empire. The research will be predominantly based on files found at the National Archives, but will also incorporate material from the Labour History Archive and Study Centre in Manchester, the Working Class Movement Library in Salford and the TUC Archive at London Metropolitan University.

This is a very exciting new project, combining several of my research interests, but also exploring an aspect of British immigration and colonial history that I have not looked at before. Andrekos is a dedicated and prolific researcher and it will be great to work on this project with him. Andrekos will be doing the majority of the archival research in August, but I hope to get to the LHASC and WCML while I am over in June.

As usual, anyone with intersecting research interests are advised to get in touch with us!