A total of 3,060 asylum seekers have crossed into the government controlled areas from the Turkish occupied north from the beginning of 2019 to June 2 and authorities are struggling to cope, Interior Minister Constantinos Petrides told the Cyprus News Agency on Friday.
He spoke of an ‘acute problem’ and said that in one month from May 2 to June 2 alone, a total of 744 asylum seekers had crossed over. In 2017, 138 refugees had come to the government controlled areas from the occupied north and 2625 in all of 2018. In the period of January 1 to June 2, the number is 3,060.
He said most are men who come in large groups. “It is therefore certainly an organised situation. We are talking of smuggling rings. There are Syrians, but also nationalities that we did not have before from countries in Africa such as Cameroon and Nigeria who come from the occupied areas and according to our information come by air to Tymbou,” he said.
“This organised situation is confirmed by reports in the Turkish Cypriot press, and it appears that even organs of the breakaway regime are involved. There appear to be political motivations behind this issue while there is also a flagrant violation of Turkey’s undertaking to the EU regarding irregular migrants for which Turkey receives a lot of money,” he added.
There are admissions from refugees themselves about the smuggling rings, but the Republic of Cyprus cannot do something since these areas are not controlled by the Republic, the minister added.
President Nicos Anastasiades has raised the issue with the EU while Foreign Minister Nicos Christodoulides will be raising it with the UN, he said.
“We are now examining the practical implementation of the Green Line regulation,” — which governs the movement of goods and people across the Green Line, Petrides said but would not elaborate.
The EU gives the Republic of Cyprus some tools to manage the situation, but these are inadequate because of the large numbers.
The reception centre at Pournara where the first interviews are held has far exceeded capacity and tents have been erected to deal with the problem. Cyprus receives financial aid from the EU — 8 m euro over seven years — only a fraction of what it spends.
But the issue is not money — Cyprus, because of its size, housing and labour markets can absorb only a specific number and current figures are many times these levels, he added.
Petrides said that 15,000 refugees have been granted international protection while another 15,000 applications are pending.