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18 July, 2024
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Cyprus cuts migrant arrivals by 50%, earns European praise

Faster asylum processing reduces African migrants to Cyprus


Cyprus continues to grapple with a significant migration challenge, a situation that has evolved into a complex and multifaceted issue. Since March 2023, President Nikos Christodoulides's administration has intensified efforts to address the strain caused by the influx of irregular migrants. These pressures had pushed the reception and hospitality system to its limits, with occupancy rates at nearly three times the system’s capacity at one point.

Interior Minister Konstantinos Ioannou faced this crisis upon taking office in March 2023. Now, a year and a half later, with Nikolas Ioannidis assuming the role of First Deputy Minister for Migration, the situation has shown signs of improvement. Official statistics reflect a positive trend, providing a more manageable scenario for Ioannidis and setting the stage for addressing longstanding issues.

The government's migration strategy, initiated in March 2023, revolves around four core pillars: reducing arrivals, expediting application processes, enhancing infrastructure, and increasing deportations. Since these measures were implemented, there has been a 50% drop in migrant arrivals in 2023 compared to 2022. Arrivals through the Green Line, which were primarily from the Occupied Territories, decreased by 65%. Additionally, arrivals of African nationals fell by 85%. This decline was driven by faster processing of asylum applications, which were reduced from over 12 months to three months, decreased benefits for rejected applicants, and stricter workplace controls to prevent illegal employment. Furthermore, an information campaign in Nigeria, Congo, and Cameroon corrected misconceptions about Cyprus. The number of deportations increased by 50%, earning praise from European officials. The number of residents in the Pournara Reception Center also dropped compared to 2020, when pandemic-related restrictions limited arrivals.

Recent hostilities in Israel have raised concerns in Nicosia about potential migration surges from Lebanon. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs has cautioned that Lebanon, already hosting around 2 million Syrians, could face collapse. Cyprus has pushed for international support to strengthen Lebanon’s border control and refugee facilities. Despite these efforts, Lebanon's inability to manage its borders effectively has led to increased boat arrivals, facilitated by organized networks that mislead migrants about economic opportunities in Cyprus and its status as a gateway to the EU.

In response, the Cypriot government and the Ministry of Interior have implemented several measures. These include suspending the examination of asylum applications from Syrian nationals and revoking the status of Syrians who travel to Syria through occupied areas. President Christodoulides has visited Beirut twice, including a visit with European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, who announced a €1 billion aid package for Lebanon. Reassessing the safety of certain areas in Syria for conditional returns has also been a focal point, with significant discussions among European officials, culminating in a recent meeting in Nicosia with ministers from Austria, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Poland, Greece, Malta, and Italy.

While the migration situation has improved since 2022, the government warns that challenges remain. The reduction in illegal arrivals through the Green Line has been particularly notable. By 2023, 95% of arrivals were via the Green Line, often facilitated by targeted promotions from Turkey, primarily involving African nationals with "student visas." These individuals would arrive in the occupied territories as "students" and then cross into free areas to seek asylum. By May this year, such arrivals had significantly decreased, reflecting the broader success of the government's measures. Nevertheless, the government stresses that the situation remains fluid and susceptible to external factors, requiring ongoing vigilance and adaptability.

[Summary of Apostolis Tomaras' original story in Greek published in Kathimerini's Cyprus edition]

Cyprus  |  migration  |  EU

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