In a first, Cyprus and the EU have signed an agreement governing the rules for the return of migrants, and a Memorandum of Understanding is expected to be signed soon, which will detail the actions needed to effectively control migrant flows in Cyprus.
The agreement was co-signed on Tuesday in Nicosia by Interior Minister Nikos Nouris and Deputy Director-General of the EU's Directorate-General for Immigration and Home Affairs Beate Gminder.
Ms. Gminder stressed the need to combat human trafficking and to tackle the problem at the source
Ms. Gminder said the EU recognizes the enormous problem and challenges facing Cyprus and will continue to provide support.
Foreign Minister Nikos Nouris stressed that we look forward to more effective support for managing the situation and reiterated that Turkey is essentially the cause for the channeling of illegal immigrants through the green line and for this reason it was necessary to place natural barriers in those locations.
Mr. Nouris said that the visit clearly shows the Commission's readiness to assist Cyprus with its migrant problem, reiterating that "we are making, through a very structured program, a very big effort for the effective management of migration flows".
"Despite the fact that 13,200 new asylum applications had been submitted in 2021, with 85% coming from the occupied territories and through the green line, we managed to examine 16,500 applications, more than what was submitted in 2021, proving the effectiveness of the asylum system we have in place. Moreover, of these 16,500 asylum applications, 13,000 were rejected and we were able to inform the respective applicants immediately," he said.
He reiterated that 2022 did not start with good omens, that the numbers were overwhelming and that we had 1,335 new asylum seekers, which is almost twice as many as we had in the corresponding month in 2020. They came from sub-Saharan Africa, specifically from the Congo. All the migrants, he added, arrive in Turkey, either at Istanbul airport moving to the illegal airport of Tympos or from the coast and all make their way to the Cyprus Republic via the green line.
The Minister of Interior stated that a set of clear standardized return procedures were agreed upon and finalized today, something in which organizations such as Frontex and EASO are involved.
The request for financial assistance for the new center in Limnes and the upgrading of the existing one as well as the problems of overpopulation in Pournara were also discussed.
"In practice, the Commission shows with its presence its support for our problems because we have proportionally the largest number of inflows of illegal immigrants from all Member States. So the EU is here and we thank them for their assistance and we look forward to more effective support to manage the flows," he said. He also added that, in a show of support, Frontex Vice President Margaritis Schoinas is scheduled to visit the island on the 20th of February.
Mr. Nouris said that Cyprus and the EU are in the process of signing a memorandum of agreement and expressed the hope that this will be signed in the coming weeks.
Mr. Nouris said that there is a need to manage the green line and that stems from the fact that Turkey, by instrumentalizing immigration, is channeling all these people into the Cyprus Republic.
From her part, Ms. Gminder said in a statement that talks were held today on future and current cooperation between the two sides, stressing that the EU recognizes that Cyprus is under enormous pressure from asylum seekers and migrants, and she assured the Minister that the EU must and will support Cyprus in addressing this challenge.
"This is a joint activity that will strengthen (Cyprus) and the other Member States will help. "We also see the need to increase reception centers in Cyprus and the EU will support the Minister and the Republic in increasing them," she said.
However, Ms. Gminder stressed the need to combat human trafficking and to tackle the problem at the source, "often people are misled by the promises given to them and it is not clear what the journey will entail or what will come out of it."
Gminder went on to say that the EU is cooperating very actively with other countries as well as with airlines.
"This is something we did for the first time and we also believe that this could be an opportunity for further improvement in the future. We have proposed legislation that would penalize these airlines that are actively involved in smuggling, but its legal definition is extremely difficult to determine and is currently being discussed between the European Parliament and the Council. The issue is still being discussed."