An “historic” Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) between the Republic of Cyprus and the European Union on the migration issue was signed at the Presidential Palace on Monday.
The Memorandum was signed by Minister of Interior, Nicos Nouris, on behalf of the Republic of Cyprus and by European Commissioner for Home Affairs, Ylva Johansson, on behalf of the EU, in the presence of Cyprus President Nicos Anastasiades and Vice-President of the European Commission (EC), Margaritis Schinas.
The agreement provides actions on three main pillars. The first concerns the points of arrival and origin of these migratory flows, the second, the strengthening of the reception and management structures of the migratory flows arriving at the Republic of Cyprus and the third concerns the return of people, arriving to Cyprus through these migrant flows, to their countries of origin.
In his statement after the signing of the Memorandum, Schinas said that this was “an important and symbolic day” because the European Union and the Republic of Cyprus are, together, turning a new page in the management of a problem that has become a massive one and creates a disproportionate burden on Cyprus. He said Cyprus is one of the smallest EU Member States but that is under great pressure in a particularly political and institutional aspect of its operation that is directly linked to the buffer zone, the UN-controlled land separating the northern, Turkish-occupied areas of the Republic of Cyprus from the southern government-controlled part of the country.
He explained that the buffer zone is not an external border of the EU, “but is the EU”, and that the MoU was an effort to introduce a single framework of political commitments and actions, a network of initiatives that will mobilise all European services and agencies that are linked with the management of immigration and asylum, in a single coherent set of initiatives that will change the situation soon.
Schinas said that immediate action was required on the points of arrival and origin of the migratory flows and pledged to take initiatives on this. He also referred to the second pillar, on assistance to the Republic of Cyprus for the strengthening of the reception structures and the management of the migration flows, while keeping in mind the issue of the ceasefire line.
He also said that the third pillar and key element of this new initiative is the adoption of an intensified wave of returns of those migrants who are not justified to be under EU legal protection, to their countries of origin.
Schinas, responding to a question by members of the press after the ceremony, on the practical implementation of the Action Plan, referred, among other things, to the points of departure of these flows, adding, that, in the past, they had reached an understanding with Turkey and other countries of departure that had helped deal with this problem. He said they will try again and expressed hope that “this positive predisposition of Turkey and of Turkish airlines to contribute to a cooperation with us will be repeated.”
On his part, Nouris, welcomed the MoU as “a milestone” for the Republic of Cyprus and the efforts made by the government to manage a problem that has plagued the country in recent years was also “the strongest proof that Europe is here.”
“They heard us, they understood the problem we are facing and it is on our side,” he said.
The Minister said that in Cyprus, the excessively increased flows have brought a lot of negative effects on the economy, social cohesion and security of the country, while the exploitation of the asylum system by persons which do not require international protection, deprive the state of the ability to provide effective hospitality, care and support to those in real need.
He said that the Action Plan is now a comprehensive and effective roadmap for all actions taken by the immigration management chain, from the control procedures, the improvement of the reception and asylum conditions, integration and socialisation, the complex and extremely important return procedures, and also the very important pillar of the support of the vulnerable groups such as the unaccompanied minors.
In her address, Johansson, who signed the MoU, remotely, through teleconferencing, said this agreement was “underpinned by a comprehensive Action Plan on migration management,” based on which, the European Commission together with EUAA, Frontex, and Europol will continue to further step up where necessary and provide support to Cyprus in migration management within their respective mandates. She said the MoU sets out a mutual cooperation framework between the EC and the Cypriot authorities to support and improve migration management in Cyprus.
This MOU, she added, comes in response to the existing migration challenges the Republic of Cyprus is currently confronted with as the Member State consistently dealing with the highest number of asylum applications per capita in the EU for the past years.
Acknowledging Cyprus` constructive approach for a continued and enhanced cooperation on migration management, Johansson said that this MoU “will help Cyprus establish a well-functioning future-proof migration management system in line with relevant standards and Union law and send a strong message of support to Cyprus from the Commission and EU agencies.”
The Commissioner said that the MoU will legalise EU support to Cyprus, mainly through an updated version of the Action Plan agreed between the Commission and Cyprus in 2019 and constitute a road map for all priority actions needed throughout the migration management chain, from the reception of newly arrived migrants to asylum procedures, integration, and return.
In particular, she added, the implementation of the MoU and the Action Plan will boost the effective mobilisation of the necessary resources from the Commission and Agencies on the EU side, and all relevant actors on the Cypriot side, with the aim of enhanced capacities on first reception in line with EU standards and legal framework and enable the improvement of the situation at the Pournara Center. It will also help implement timely and effective asylum procedures and tackle the backlog of asylum applications at first and second instance in line with EU standards and legal framework, improve the efficiency and effectiveness of the return system and establish and implement a comprehensive and effective strategy with regards to the reception and integration of third-country nationals.
The Commissioner also called for solidarity initiatives by other Member States on this matter and said that the situation faced by Cyprus underlines the need for a fair and effective European migration and asylum system that is able to respond to different situations and could provide protection to people in need and capable of managing migration in normal times, in times of pressure and in times of crisis.
After the ceremony, President Anastasiades had a meeting with Schinas, during which, according to the EC Vice-President, they discussed the situation in the wider area. Schinas said that President Anastasiades was one of the most experienced leaders in the European Council, so he did not need to brief him about much since he already knows a lot.
He added that he was leaving Cyprus “very satisfied” both from the signing of the Memorandum, which he said, was a “historic” one, and his meeting with the President of the Republic, noting that their meetings were “always very interesting.”
Schinas also met with House President Annita Demetriou, who discussed with him the Cyprus problem, the issue of Famagusta and migration.