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History Of British Cypriots

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Information on the history of British Cypriots

Silikou Village                                           Photo ©

The British Cypriot community in the United Kingdom consists of British people born on, or with ancestors from, the Eastern Mediterranean island of Cyprus. British Cypriot people may be of Greek-, Turkish-, Maronite-, or Armenian-Cypriot descent.

Migration from Cyprus to the UK has occurred in part due to the colonial links between the countries and the internal conflict that followed Cyprus' independence from the British Empire in 1960. Migration peaked at the time of independence but has continued on a smaller scale. The number of Cypriot-born people in the UK fell between the 1991 and 2001 censuses, but the community, including people of Cypriot ancestry, remains sizeable, and the Cypriot-born population grew slightly between the 2001 and 2011 censuses.

A number of famous British people are of Cypriot ancestry, including musicians George Michael and Cat Stevens, footballer Leon Osman, artist Panayiotis Kalorkoti, visual artist Tracey Emin, and politician Lord Adonis. Migration between the UK and Cyprus is now open and free, as both countries are members of the European Union.


Before the First World War, very few Cypriots migrated to the UK and the British Cypriot population at this time was around 150, according to historian Stavros Panteli. Only a handful of marriages involving Cypriots are recorded at London's Greek Orthodox Cathedral of Saint Sophia in the years before 1918. During the First World War many Cypriots joined the allied forces. When the British annexed Cyprus in 1914, Cypriots' political status changed and they found it easier to travel.

The 1931 British Census recorded more than 1,000 Cypriot-born people, but many of these were the children of British military personnel serving in the Mediterranean. However, some Greek Cypriots did migrate to the UK in the 1920s and 1930s, often finding jobs in the catering industry in Soho. By the start of the Second World War, there were around 8,000 Cypriots in London. More Cypriot immigrants arrived during the National Organisation of Cypriot Fighters (EOKA)'s campaign for Cypriot independence from Britain and union with Greece, which started in 1955.

In the four years of conflict, an average of 4,000 Cypriots left the island per year for the UK, because of violence on the island and the fear felt by both Greek and Turkish Cypriots in mixed villages where they formed minorities. Migration peaked following independence in 1960, with around 25,000 Cypriots migrating in the year that followed. Many migrants joined family already living in Britain. Further migration accompanied the Turkish invasion of the island in 1974. Home Office figures show that roughly 10,000 Cypriots fled to the UK, the majority of them refugees, but many of them subsequently returned to the island.

In the 1960s, Greek Cypriots in London outnumbered Turkish Cypriots by four to one. The increase in post-war rents in central London had forced many Cypriot immigrants to move north within the city. The Greek and Turkish Cypriot communities tended to be geographically segregated, with Greeks settling mainly in Camden and Turks in Stoke Newington. This was due to the migrants' reliance on social networks to find housing on their arrival. Robert Winder reports that "Haringey became the second biggest Cypriot town in the world". Many Cypriots set up restaurants, filling a gap left by Italians, many of whom had been interned during the Second World War.

Much of the Turkish Cypriot migration to the UK occurred as a consequence of intercommunal violence in Cyprus during the 1950s and 1960s. Many Turkish Cypriots viewed the EOKA insurgency as an attempt on the part of Greek Cypriots to establish hegemony on the island with the aim of achieving union with Greece. By 1958, there were around 8,500 Turkish Cypriots in Britain. Between 1960 and 1962, the inflow increased substantially because of a fear that Britain would impose immigration controls, and indeed the Commonwealth Immigrants Act 1962 did reduce migration flows from Cyprus to Britain. Although the expansion of Britain's Turkish Cypriot community took place primarily between the late 1940s and the mid-1960s, there was a further influx of around 3,000 immigrants after partition in 1974.

Migration continued because of the political and economic situation in the 1970s and 1980s, and Turkish Cypriots have continued to migrate to the UK due to high unemployment rates in northern Cyprus. In the early 1980s, it was estimated that 160,000 Cypriots were resident in the UK, 20 to 25 per cent of them being Turkish Cypriots. Since Cyprus joined the European Union in May 2004, holders of Republic of Cyprus passports have been able to migrate freely to the UK under EU law.

According to the BBC, while divisions and resentment exist between Greek and Turkish Cypriots in the UK, particularly amongst those old enough to remember atrocities committed in Cyprus, "if differences of opinion exist, both sides have learnt to live together regardless". Community relations are generally good, with Turkish Cypriot community centres welcoming Greek Cypriots and vice versa. I

In oral history interviews conducted by academic Nergis Canefe in the late 1990s, Turkish Cypriots in London tended to define themselves as Anglo-Cypriot, particularly if they were born in the UK. Canefe notes that her interviewees were proud to be Cypriot, but also of being British and not Turkish. They had Turkish friends, but also close Greek and Greek Cypriot friends. The neighbourhoods they inhabited tended to be ethnically mixed, and often shared with Greeks and Greek Cypriots.



Cyprus appeared amongst the top ten non-British countries of birth for the first time in the 1961 Census, which recorded 42,000 Cypriot-born people living in England and Wales. This number peaked in the 1981 Census, at 83,000. The 2001 Census recorded 77,673 Cypriot-born people residing in the whole of the UK. The number of Cypriot-born people in Great Britain fell from 78,191 in 1991 to 77,156 in 2001, one of the few country-of-birth groups to experience a decrease in numbers.

According to the 2011 UK Census, there were 78,795 Cypriot-born residents in England, 1,215 in Wales, 1,941 in Scotland, and 344 in Northern Ireland. More recent estimates by the Office for National Statistics put the number of Cypriot-born residents in the UK as a whole at 68,000 in 2013, though these estimates are subject to a forthcoming reweighting exercise to reflect the results of the most recent census.

British Cypriot people include those of Greek-, Turkish-, Maronite-, or Armenian-Cypriot descent. The National Federation of Cypriots in the UK, an umbrella organisation representing the Cypriot community associations and groups across the UK with largely Greek Cypriot memberships, claims to represent more than 300,000 people of Cypriot ancestry, although they do not state whether or not this includes non-Greek Cypriots. A similar figure was given by then Minister for Europe Caroline Flint, who, giving a speech at the London School of Economics in February 2009, stated that more than 300,000 Greek and Turkish Cypriots were living in the UK.

One estimate states that 130,000 nationals of the breakaway Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (TRNC) currently reside in the UK, a figure also given by the Turkish consulate in London, whereas the Museum of London reports that 100,000 Turkish Cypriots live in Britain—20,000 more than in Cyprus itself. Nergis Canefe suggests a figure of 190,000, whereas the TRNC Ministry of Foreign Affairs suggested in May 2001 that 200,000 Turkish Cypriots were living in the United Kingdom. Evidence submitted by the Home Office to the House of Commons Home Affairs Select Committee in February 2011 suggested that there were about 300,000 Turkish Cypriots living in the UK.

Of the 80,010 people in England and Wales who specified their country of birth as Cyprus in the 2011 Census, 57.5 per cent stated that they were Christian, 20.8 per cent that they were Muslim, 13.1 per cent responded that they had no religion, and 7.9 per cent did not state a religion. Small numbers of Buddhists, Hindus, Jews, Sikhs and those of other religions were recorded, totaling 0.6 per cent of the Cypriot-born resident population.

Population distribution

Of the 80,010 Cypriot-born residents of England and Wales recorded by the 2011 Census, 43,428 were in London and 8,254 in South East England. Detailed analysis of data from the previous census shows that of the 77,156 Cypriot-born people living in mainland Britain, 60 per cent lived in areas of London with Turkish communities. A total of 45,887 were resident in Greater London. Analysis of the census shows that Cypriot-born people were found in large numbers in the London boroughs of Enfield, Haringey, Barnet and Hackney. The census tracts with the highest number of Cypriot-born people were Southgate, Palmers Green, Upper Edmonton, Cockfosters, Lower Edmonton, Tottenham North and Tottenham South. Outside of London, concentrations are found in Borehamwood, Cheshunt, and Bristol.

Notable individuals

A number of British Cypriot people are well known in the UK and overseas. These include George Michael, who was born in London to a Greek Cypriot father; Cat Stevens, whose father was Greek Cypriot; entrepreneur Stelios Haji-Ioannou; Andreas Liveras, a Greek Cypriot-born businessman killed in the 2008 Mumbai terrorist attacks; Theo Paphitis, an entrepreneur and TV personality; Greek Cypriot-born artist Panayiotis Kalorkoti; artist Tracey Emin, who has a Turkish Cypriot father; and fashion designer Hussein Chalayan, who was born in Nicosia. Everton footballer Leon Osman has a Turkish Cypriot father.

Politician Andrew Adonis's father is a Greek Cypriot who moved to the UK aged 18. British athlete and former world javelin champion Fatima Whitbread was born in Stoke Newington, London, to a Turkish Cypriot mother and Greek Cypriot father, though she grew up in children's homes.
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