Cyprus blames Turkey for rapidly worsening migrant emergency

Cyprus is increasingly welcoming migrants brought there from Turkey, which Cypriot Interior Minister Nicos Nouris says has encouraged them to come after fleeing war, conflict and economic hardship in their home country. native country.

“For us, it’s a state of emergency,” Nicos Nouris told Agence France-Presse (AFP), adding that 4.6% of the Cypriot population are now asylum seekers or beneficiaries of asylum. protection, the highest rate in the European Union.

Turkey holds some 4.4million refugees and migrants but allowed human traffickers to continue operating during a swap deal with the EU essentially suspended in 2016, with Cyprus now becoming a landing spot more privileged.

Rights groups and observers have criticized Cyprus for inhuman conditions at its overcrowded main migrant camp, where there has been violence, and for the alleged brutal treatment of some arrivals.

However, told AFP that “brutal is what Turkey has done to us” as new asylum applications had multiplied to more than 13,000 in 2021 in the country of 850,000, not counting the occupied northern third by the Turkish Cypriots.

“The issue of migration in Cyprus is a huge problem because it has been instrumentalized by Turkey,” he said.

He claimed that every day, 60-80 migrants and refugees, guided by smugglers, thread their way through the 184-kilometre (114-mile) UN-patrolled Green Line that divides the island, and that 85% made it through. over there.

The top country of origin for pending asylum applications in 2021 remained Syria, followed by Cameroon, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Nigeria and Somalia, according to the ministry.

Many new arrivals, Nouris said, fly via Istanbul to the occupied northern side recognized only by Turkey. “From there, with the smugglers, they find a way through the Green Line,” he said, apparently without patrols.

But they are surprised to find that although Cyprus is a member of the Schengen area, it is not visa-free, leaving them with nowhere to go.

“They’re trapped on the island,” Nouris said. “They cannot go to Germany or France, where they want to go, because Cyprus is not part of the Schengen area,” he said.

Cyprus says the Green Line is not a border but a ceasefire line, beyond which are “areas not under government control“, and is porous .

To address this, he said the Greek Cypriot government would step up security there, including by adding barbed wire fencing and installing an Israeli-made surveillance system this summer.

The head of EU border agency Frontex, Fabrice Leggeri, is due to visit Cyprus on February 23 and Nouris said he wanted her to patrol off the Turkish coast where he says smugglers operate.

Human Rights Watch and other groups have accused Cyprus of being too tough on asylum seekers, including pushing some back to the sea, as has also been alleged against Greece by activists.

Nouris insisted that “Cyprus has never, ever done a pushback”, but had exercised its right to intercept boats, which were usually escorted to Lebanon.

Sharon P. Juarez