Commission Vice President Margaritis Schinas and Commissioner for Home Affairs Ylva Johansson presented a Report on Migration and Asylum on Wednesday, one year since the adoption of the Commission’s proposal for a New Pact on Migration and Asylum.
The report makes specific references to the situation in Cyprus, with Johansson citing Cyprus as an example of a country where migrants are taken advantage of by smugglers, during a press conference after the regular meeting of the College of the Commissioners.
“I was in Cyprus yesterday, I spoke to Frontex and they estimated that 99% have used smugglers. And these smugglers are earning a lot of money out of this business. Because it’s quite expensive. And these smugglers are very well organised. They are big clusters of organised criminal groups, they are very quick to adapt to new routes” Johansson noted, adding that half of these groups are also involved in other criminal activities, as in money laundering, drug trafficking and arms trafficking. What is worse, she added, is that they put peoples’ lives at risk.
According to Commissioner Johansson, asylum applications have seen a big drop because of suspension of flights, and that now 90% of irregular arrivals happen by sea. Last year there was a small drop due to the pandemic, and a slight increase should be expected now, Johansson added.
The Commissioner noted that some countries face more a bigger challenge than others, pointing out an increase in arrivals in Italy. These are no longer from search and rescue operations, but independent arrivals from Tunisia, Libya and also Turkey.
She also cited Cyprus, pointing out that it “is a small island, a small country, and they have also seen an increase in irregular arrivals, mainly crossing the Green Line”.
Schinas noted that should the proposals in the New Migration and Asylum Pact be adopted, “this could greatly improve Member States` ability to deal with a whole range of issues currently faced”.
The Commissioners also announced the Commission’s decision to partially suspend the visa facilitation agreement with Belarus for Belarusian government officials and diplomats, as a response to the regime’s instrumentalisation of migration.
Responding to a question on whether similar sanctions could be applied in the case of Turkey, Commissioner Schinas said the message that is being sent is that “everyone stands to gain by cooperating with Europe - and that is also true of Turkey”.
Schinas added that today’s decision was a targeted measure against Belarus’s tactics. “We have a wide range of tools in our toolbelt, but it would be good not to have to get to that point” he added, noting that he is optimistic that cooperative solutions can be found both with Turkey and Morocco.
Invited to comment on statements by Turkish officials that the country would not accept migrants from Afghanistan, Schinas said right now there is no increased flow of migrants from Afghanistan and that the situation is not reminiscent of 2015.
He added that the EU is coordinating with the EU to promote solutions closer to Afghanistan, and that Turkey has a role to play “hopefully a positive one”.