The interior ministry in the Republic of Cyprus says an EU council draft that makes adoption of asylum and migration rules a priority includes a Green Line reference, seen by Nicosia as an important step in its attempt to block flows from the northern part seen by the south as “instruments of Turkey.”
Last week the Council of Europe and the European Parliament signed a political agreement outlining a roadmap to passing crucial reforms to the bloc’s asylum and migration system before the parliament’s term expires in early 2024.
According to the Cyprus News Agency, the interior ministry saw Friday’s political agreement as "a maximum diplomatic success after many months of difficult negotiations."
CNA reported that Nicosia managed to have included a statement in a compromise proposal drafted by the Czech presidency with a special reference to the Green Line, which currently allows asylum seekers to be exempt from restrictions of crossing from north to south to seek protection.
Greek Cypriot checkpoint officers routinely turn away foreign nationals coming from the north to seek asylum in the south, citing concerns of instrumentalization of economic migrants by Turkey
“Although the Green Line is not an external border, it follows that the situation in which a third country or a non-state actor encourages or facilitates the movement of third country nationals to cross the line should be considered instrumentalization,” it was reportedly said in the draft, which still has to be approved.
Greek Cypriot checkpoint officers at UN buffer zone posts have been routinely turning away foreign nationals coming from the north through Turkey and seeking asylum in the Republic’s south, citing policy by the interior ministry.
Interior Minister Nicos Nouris has been airing the divided island’s grievances at the European level, saying the Cypriot government was ready to welcome genuine refugees but the small country could not accept huge numbers of economic migrants seen by Nicosia as being pushed onto the island by Turkey.
For two years some EU states including Cyprus have been unable to agree on a New Pact on Migration and Asylum proposed in September 2020, with Nicosia warning it would not sign off on a comprehensive package unless the island’s grievances were addressed.
Last year Cyprus teamed up with other Mediterranean countries known as MED5 to warn Brussels against two proposals, screening regulations and fingerprint changes, arguing the schemes within the pact would place undue burden on front line member states.
But the Czechs, who are following past attempts by the French to seal the deal before European parliament elections, held an informal meeting in Prague in the summer to hash out a roadmap on Eurodac fingerprinting rules and a bill on screening that could lead to detention centers.
An announcement by the Cypriot interior ministry suggests the inclusion of a provision in the draft was “the first official admission by Europe for the instrumentalization of immigration by Turkey through the Green Line and now clearly provides the possibility for the Republic of Cyprus to face the hybrid threat of Turkey and to stop the daily illegal crossings of irregular migrants channeled through the occupied territories by adopting all those means and measures correspondingly applied to the external borders of the European Union, without the Green Line being considered a border.”
Nouris has been harshly criticized over Nicosia’s pushback policies, including a controversial deal with Beirut where refugees on boats were being sent back without being allowed to file an asylum application.
EU officials have been sending mixed signals to Cyprus, with European Commissioner for Home Affairs Ylva Johansson saying she had “question marks” about the Cyprus-Lebanon agreement, noting EU regulations stipulate people can seek asylum at the bloc’s sea borders.
But Vice-President of the European Commission Margaritis Schinas has backed Nicosia’s stance at the Green Line, saying the EU ought to help the Republic of Cyprus to organize its presence on the green line in a way that is compatible with its special status,