Economy

Look Who's Coming To Cyprus Now

Real estate agents from the troubled Mediterranean country have identified potential buyers in China, looking for both cheap real estate, and EU residency. But buyer beware.

Look Who's Coming To Cyprus Now
Yu Han

BEIJING - In the international exhibition area of the just-concluded Beijing Real Estate Trade Fair, agents from one country won the favor of a surprising number of Chinese investors: Cyprus. Out of over 70 foreign exhibitors, 18 of them were Cypriot real estate agents.

This is all thanks to the newly promulgated immigration policy of Cyprus. The purchase of a property with a minimum market value of 300,000 euros will entitle the investor to obtain a Permanent Residence permit (PR).

At the 2013 edition of the annual trade fair, Cypriots were busy waving advertising flyers, not only with bargain prices and favorable financing, but also “Facilitation Of The EU Visa," and "No More Immigration Prison Needed."

Zheng had never bought a property overseas before. She is one of the people who took a fancy of this promotion and signed up for a bungalow for 400,000 euros in Larnaca, one of Cyprus’ main cities. She paid 80% of the house price and also placed another 30,000 euro as a fixed deposit in a local bank for three years, as required. She chose a German bank, believing that it might be less risky than a Cypriot one.

Despite the fact that a satisfying solution has yet to be found for solving the Cyprus bank crisis, Zheng is confident that this is the best moment to buy houses there. "My major consideration is to obtain the residence permit which will then facilitate applications for visas for other EU countries."

Zhang Yu, a sales manager of a Beijing consulting firm for international investment, pointed out that the newly accelerated resident permit procedure will allow a qualified applicant to obtain approval within three months. Successful applicants will then have to visit Cyprus at least once every two years for the Permanent Residence visa not to be cancelled. During this time, the applicant must prove that he or she has a secured minimum annual income of 30,000 euros from sources other than employment in Cyprus.

Like Zheng who bought property after a visit to Cyprus, Chang is another person who is ready for the move. She is planning to send her daughter there for the "English-style education." What the salesman didn't tell her is that public schools in Cyprus teach in Greek. Only private schools will be offering teaching in English.

Other side of the coin

However, many worry about the risks of investing in Cyprus given its current economic situation. A Cypriot lawyer was trying his best to convince Chinese customers by stating that of the fixed 30,000 euro deposit, 10,000 euro will be guaranteed no matter what happens. Still, he failed to explain what will happen to the real estate.

Meanwhile, news filtered out that certain real estate developers owe the two major Cypriot banks large loans that they are incapable of paying off. So even a real estate license is not a guarantee of anything.

Cyprus needs to raise by itself 5.8 billion euro of relief funds. This requirement is written in the agreement reached by the tripartite committee and the President of Cyprus in dealing with the debt crisis. Meanwhile, over the past year, this beautiful Mediterranean republic has had the fastest growing year-on-year unemployment among EU countries.

In order to boost Cyprus’ economy, the new immigration regulations specify that non-EU nationals who intend to obtain the permit through purchasing of properties must not engage in any work or compete with the natives for employment in Cyprus. In addition, they must have a free and secured disposable annual income.

This is also confirmed by the Commercial Counselor’s Office in the Chinese Embassy to Cyprus. They are warning Chinese people who are interested in buying property or working in Cyprus not to believe certain unscrupulous intermediary Chinese agencies’ false propaganda. They point out that even if applicants have successfully obtained the country’s permanent residency, they are neither entitled to enjoy local welfare nor have the right to work.

In the view of Sun Yanhong, researcher at the Chinese Academy of Social Science, it is important to take into account both the housing prices and exchange rate when investing in overseas properties. “First is whether or not the price is at its lowest. Second, what the exchange rate is between the RMB and the euro. If the increase in the housing price can’t even keep up with the pace of the Chinese currency appreciation, then it will be a loss.”

As for Zheng Xiangdon, the Deputy Secretary General of the Organizing Committee of Beijing Real Estate Trade Fair, the most important of all is to “carefully assess the risks.”

“China's housing prices can only rise; other countries’ markets have ups and downs. If the purpose of the purchase is as an investment, the market factors are to be emphasized. And if the investment is aimed at immigration, then it is necessary to understand the country’s immigration policy.”

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Coronavirus

Where Lockdowns For LGBTQ Meant Moving Back In With Homophobic Relatives

The confinement experience could turn brutal for those forced to live with relatives who would not tolerate a member of the family living their sexual orientation openly as a young adult. Here are stories from urban and rural India.

At a Rainbow pride walk in Kolkata, India

Sreemanti Sengupta

Abhijith had been working as a radio jockey in the southern Indian city of Thiruvananthapuram when the COVID-19 pandemic hit in March, 2020. When the government imposed a nationwide lockdown, Abhijith returned to the rural Pathanamthitta district , where his parents live with an extended family, including uncles, cousins and grandparents.

Eighteen months later, he recalled that the experience was "unbearable" because he had to live with homophobic relatives. "Apart from the frequent reference to my sexual 'abnormality', they took me to a guruji to 'cure' me," Abhijith recalled. "He gave me something to eat, which made me throw up. The guru assured me that I was throwing up whatever 'demon' was possessing me and 'making' me gay."


Early in 2021, Abhijith travelled back to Thiruvananthapuram, where he found support from the members of the queer collective.

Inspired by their work, he also decided to work towards uplifting the queer community. "I wish no one else goes through the mental trauma I have endured," said Abhijit.

Abhijith's story of mental distress arising from family abuse turns out to be all too common among members of India's LGBTQ+ community, many of whom were trapped in their homes and removed from peer support groups during the pandemic.

Oppressive home situations

As India continues to reel from a pandemic that has claimed more lives (235,524) in three months of the second wave (April-June 2021) than in the one year before that (162,960 deaths in March 2020-March 2021), the LGBTQ community has faced myriad problems. Sexual minorities have historically suffered from mainstream prejudice and the pandemic has aggravated socio-economic inequalities, instigated family and institutionalized abuse, apart from limiting access to essential care. This has resulted in acute mental distress which has overwhelmed queer support infrastructure across the country.

Speaking to queer collective representatives across India, I learned that the heightened levels of distress in the community was due to longstanding factors that were triggered under lockdown conditions. Family members who are intolerant of marginalized sexual identities, often tagging their orientation as a "disorder" or "just a phase", have always featured among the main perpetrators of subtle and overt forms of violence towards queer, trans and homosexual people.

Calls from lesbians and trans men to prevent forced marriages during lockdowns.

Sappho For Equality, a Kolkata-based feminist organization that works for the rights of sexually marginalized women and trans men, recorded a similar trend. Early in the first wave, the organization realized that the existing helpline number was getting overwhelmed with distress calls. It added a second helpline number. The comparative figures indicate a 13-fold jump in numbers: from 290 calls in April 2019-March 20 to 3,940 calls in April 2020-May 2021.

"Most of the calls we have been getting from lesbians and trans men are urgent appeals to prevent forced marriages during lockdowns," said Shreosi, a Sappho member and peer support provider. "If they happen to resist, they are either evicted or forced to flee home. But where to house them? There aren't so many shelters, and ours is at full capacity."

Shreosi says that the nature of distress calls has also changed. "Earlier people would call in for long-term help, such as professional mental health support. But during the pandemic, it has changed to immediate requests to rescue from oppressive home situations. Often, they will speak in whispers so that the parents can't hear."

Lack of spaces

Like many of his fellow queer community members, life for Sumit P., a 30-year-old gay man from Mumbai, has taken a turn for the worse. The lockdown has led to the loss of safe spaces and prolonged residence at home.

"It has been a really difficult time since the beginning of the lockdown. I am suffering from a lot of mental stress since I cannot freely express myself at home. Even while making a call, I have to check my surroundings to see if anybody is there. If I try to go out, my family demands an explanation. I feel suffocated," he said.

The pandemic has forced some queer people to come out

Sumit is also dealing with a risk that has hit the community harder than others – unemployment and income shortage. He's opened a cafe with two other queer friends, which is now running into losses. For others, pandemic-induced job losses have forced queer persons from all over the country to return to their home states and move in with their families who've turned abusive during this long period of confinement.

Lockdowns force coming out

According to Kolkata-based physician, filmmaker and gay rights activist Tirthankar Guha Thakurata, the pandemic has forced some queer people to come out, succumbing to rising discomfort and pressure exerted by homophobic families.

"In most cases, family relations sour when a person reveals their identity. But many do not flee home. They find a breathing space or 'space out' in their workspaces. In the absence of these spaces, mental problems rose significantly," he said.

Not being able to express themselves freely in front of parents who are hostile, intolerant and often address transgender persons by their deadname or misgender them has created situations of severe distress, suicidal thoughts and self-harm.

Psychiatrist and queer feminist activist Ranjita Biswas (she/they) cites an incident. A gender-nonconforming person died under suspicious circumstances just days after leaving their peer group and going home to their birth parents. The final rites were performed with them dressed in bangles and a saree.

"When a member of our community asked their mother why she chose a saree for someone who had worn androgynous clothes all their life, she plainly said it was natural because after all, the deceased 'was her daughter,'" Biswas recalls.

The Indian queer mental health support infrastructure, already compromised with historical prejudice, is now struggling

David Talukdar/ZUMA

"Correctional" therapy

In India, queer people's access to professional mental healthcare has been "very limited," according to community members such as Ankan Biswas, India's first transgender lawyer who has been working with the Human Rights Law Network in West Bengal.

"A large majority of the psychiatrists still consider homosexuality as a disorder and practice 'correctional therapy'. It's only around the big cities that some queer-friendly psychiatrists can be found," Biswas said. "The pandemic has further widened the inequalities in access to mental health support for India's LGBTQ community."

Biswas is spending anxious days fielding an overwhelming amount of calls and rescue requests from queer members trapped in their homes, undergoing mental, verbal and even physical torture. "We don't have the space, I just tell them to wait and bear it a little longer," he said.

Medical care is dismal

Anuradha Krishnan's story, though not involving birth family, outlines how the lack of physical support spaces have affected India's queer population. Abandoned by her birth family when she came out to them as a trans woman in 2017, Anuradha Krishnan (she/they), founder of Queerythm in Kerala who is studying dentistry, had to move into an accommodation with four other persons.

Isolation triggered my depression

"I am used to talking and hanging around with friends. Isolation triggered my depression and I had to seek psychiatric help." Living in cramped quarters did not help with quarantine requirements and all of them tested positive during the first wave.

What is deeply worrying is that the Indian queer mental health support infrastructure, already compromised with historical prejudice, is now struggling, placing more and more pressure on queer collectives and peer support groups whose resources are wearing thin.

During the 10 months of the first wave of the pandemic in India in 2020, Y'all, a queer collective based in Manipur, received about 1,000 distress calls on their helpline number from LGBTQ+ individuals. In May 2021 alone, they received 450 such calls (including texts and WhatsApp messages) indicating a telling escalation in the number of queer people seeking help during the second wave.

As India's queer-friendly mental health support infrastructure continues to be tested, Y'all founder, Sadam Hanjabam, a gay man, says, "Honestly, we are struggling to handle such a large number of calls, it is so overwhelming. We are also dealing with our own anxieties. We are burning out."

Sreemanti Sengupta is a freelance writer, poet, and media studies lecturer based in Kolkata.

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