Interior Minister Constantinos Ioannou told MPs on Thursday that the number of applications for international protection had increased by 490% since 2016, pointing out the need to implement an EU action plan for the Eastern Mediterranean to reduce migratory flows.
Ioannou, who made his first appearance before the parliamentary committee of internal affairs since assuming his duties, outlined his vision for the Ministry. He pointed out that the aim was to continue development activity so that cities and communities could become more sustainable and friendly through balanced growth while enhancing the country’s economy, citizens’ security and social cohesion.
Cyprus has been consistently the member state with the highest number of international protection applications in relation to its population and that it has recorded an increase of 490% since 2016.
Referring to the migration problem, the Minister said that Cyprus had consistently been the member state with the highest number of international protection applications in relation to its population and that it had recorded an increase of 490% since 2016.
As a result, he noted, applicants and holders of any form of international protection in Cyprus numbered over 55,000. This corresponded to over 6% of the country’s population. He added that in 2022 alone a total of 21,565 new applicants were recorded. This amounted to 50% of total applicants in the Mediterranean. Within a matter of 10 months, 857 unaccompanied minors arrived in Cyprus.
Ioannou referred to the aim of establishing a Migration and Asylum Deputy Ministry. The Bill for this was expected to be submitted to Parliament around the end of May.
Replying to a question about fencing along the Green Line he said the barbed wire was not their goal but that they would need to evaluate how it worked in practice when it came to monitoring the ceasefire line. The aim, he explained, was to try to guard the line while respecting human rights. He added that a decision by the previous government to hire guards would go ahead.
He further noted the need for action on the part of the EU to effectively deal with migratory flows because, as he said, no matter what the government did, such as increasing staff to review applications faster, fast-tracking procedures, supporting the returns bureau or building new reception centers, if flows from Turkey through the Turkish-occupied areas did not drop, it would not be feasible to effectively deal with the matter. This, he added, could happen through the EU.
Ioannou referred to the need for implementing an EU action plan for the Eastern Mediterranean. He added that other plans that were implemented elsewhere had helped in reducing flows.
He said that a draft of proposals had been prepared which he had discussed with Foreign Affairs Minister Constantinos Kombos. These included a Frontex office in Turkey; sanctions against airlines transporting unaccompanied minors; checking visas of so-called students in Turkish-occupied areas of Cyprus; and raising awareness in third countries about Cyprus not being in the Schengen area.
The Interior Minister further said that relocation of asylum seekers to other EU countries should be mandatory rather than optional. He added that so far only 96 people had been relocated from Cyprus.
Replying to questions posed by MPs Ioannou said that last year 16,000 applications were examined and that 30,000 were pending. He asked for more personnel and added that possibility of the relevant Court operating in the afternoon was also being examined.
[This article was edited from its original version]