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24 June, 2024
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Asylum seekers stuck in Cyprus' buffer zone

Cypriot interior minister says ordeal of three Cameroonians living in tents could end if EU takes them in


Cypriot Interior Minister Nikos Nouris says the ordeal of three Cameroonians currently stuck in the buffer zone could end if EU fellow members agreed to take them in, with reports saying the bloc is still looking for consensus on migration policy but nothing has been agreed to date.

(Click here for an update to the story)

Back in late May, three Cameroonians who spent a few months in the north made an attempt to reach the Republic of Cyprus, with a late night jump from a high wall into the south landing them into the UN-patrolled buffer zone.

Their story was highlighted by The Guardian who also spoke with Nouris just before the Cypriot minister went to Slovenia to attend an EU summit.

The three individuals are seeking asylum in the Republic but the government has refused to take their applications.

'We have to be very careful not to open a new passage,' Nouris said, adding that if he let the three Cameroonians come south there would be thousands to follow from Turkey

Nouris, who has taken a tough stance on migration, defended his decision not to allow them to apply for asylum, saying the island was in the middle of a migration crisis and “centers are full and we simply don’t have the capacity to receive more.”

Reports in local media have cast doubt on the reliability of high numbers of asylum seekers, with some agencies suggesting many migrant camp residents were either forced to live there due to lack of housing options or ended up giving up their student visa and filing for change of status.

During the two-month uncertainty for the three Cameroonians, according to The Guardian, human rights groups went on to accuse the government of “inflating the number of arrivals and generating a climate of fear based on xenophobia and anti-immigration hysteria.”

“We have to be very careful not to open a new passage,” Nouris responded, adding that if he let the three Cameroonians come south there would be thousands to follow.

“Turkey will put them on buses and send them to the checkpoints,” the minister said.

But the UN refugee agency says the trio has the right to have their asylum claims examined.

UNHCR spokesperson Emilia Strovolidou told The Guardian that the three individuals, who were living in tents in very hot temperatures, were returned to no man’s land after approaching a UN patrol unit and going to the nearest Greek Cypriot checkpoint.

“This is a clear-cut case of people asking for international protection,” Strovolidou said, adding the agency had made repeated calls on the government to allow access to filing procedures.

Two years ago, government plans were designed to include checkpoint stations along the buffer zone where officers of the Republic could carry out initial on-the-spot evaluations of undocumented migrants’ claims.

Another measure would be to adjudicate claims on the spot, with migration officers having discretion over denying entry to asylum seekers from third countries if there is a legal basis to turn them away.

But the measure was controversial and the issue had been raised with the European Commission.

EU migration discussion still ongoing

Now the interior minister has been putting pressure on his EU counterparts to agree on a migration policy that would include Cyprus in a reallocation program.

Last week Slovenian Interior Minister Ales Hojs hosted Nouris and other EU counterparts for an informal meeting in Predoslje, where colleagues sought to look for consensus in EU Migration policy.

"The ministers held a sincere and open debate, in which they presented their views that remain largely directed towards the nothing is negotiated until everything is negotiated approach,” Hojs said.

But there was still room for improvement concerning the new Pact on Migration and Asylum, according to the Slovenian minister.

“There is still a possibility of making a step forward with the full package with the files that are not related to the most sensitive issues of the pact, particularly the Eurodac regulation. I am pleased that we demonstrated political will in favor of gradual progress in the formulation of the common EU Migration Policy," he said.

But experts and some EU politicians have expressed concern over the long time and difficult process needed for members to get on board.

Earlier this year, some initiatives had still remained under discussion among member states, following a JUMBO meeting when EU interior ministers met via teleconference for the first time after six years.

But Nouris, who is under fire over pushbacks, told The Guardian the situation with the three Cameroonians could be easily solved.

“I have written to the European Commission, saying we are prepared to transfer them to other member states, but have not heard back,” says Nouris.

“If that were to happen, this could so easily be solved,” the minister added.

Cyprus  |  buffer zone  |  asylum seeker  |  refugee  |  Cameroon  |  migration  |  EU  |  Slovenia  |  Nouris

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