Cabinet on Wednesday approved amendments to the rules governing implementation of the Green Line Regulation in an effort to curb irregular migration into the government controlled areas.
The decision was announced by Minister of Interior Constantinos Petrides who told reporters that the situation has changed significantly since the Green Line regulation was first adopted in 2004.
The Green Line regulation — which came into force when Cyprus acceded into the EU — regulates the movement of people and goods across the Green Line. Rules were then adopted by the government for its implementation.
Cyprus has been struggling to cope with an influx of irregular migrants who either come from the Turkish-occupied north or by boat to the government controlled areas.
Petrides said that in July 2019 alone, a total of 28,000 third-country nationals crossed the checkpoints of the Republic of Cyprus.
The Minister added that together with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs they had proposed an amendment of the rules to prohibit the movement of third-country nationals arriving from illegal entry points to the areas controlled by the Republic of Cyprus.
Also proposed is prohibiting holders of the temporary residence permits issued by Cyprus authorities from moving from the areas controlled by the Republic to the occupied area.
It has been also suggested that the rules explicitly state that minors of any nationality can only enter the territory of the Republic of Cyprus if they are accompanied by their parents or one parent provided that parental consent has been obtained from the other parent or, alternatively, a written consent of both parents was issued if the minor is accompanied by another adult.
The amendment includes provision for emergency situations not covered by the rules to be processed on humanitarian grounds.
He added that the European Commission will be informed of these changes the soonest possible.
He also pointed out that “due to the increased need for strict checks, something which is not currently done to the level required, checks will be carried out by the police at the checkpoints, which will need to be properly redesigned and staffed with additional personnel.”
The Public Works department have prepared plans to redesign the checkpoints so that checks can be carried out properly, he said.
The Council of Ministers also authorised the minister to prepare bills relating to the imposition of penalties and administrative fines for illegal entry into the Republic of Cyprus from the unauthorised entry points.
He noted that the Ministry of Justice and the Ministry of Defence have also been urged to strengthen checks along the Green Line.
Given the spike in the number of asylum applications and sham marriages of third-country nationals who are in Cyprus as students, cabinet also authorised the Education Minister to review to how tertiary education colleges operate the soonest possible with a view to introducing more effective controls.
Finally, he said that it was decision that the Finance and Defence Ministers will also participate in the Committee on Migration with current members – Ministers of Interior, Justice and Labour.
Cyprus has the highest number of asylum applications as a share of the population in the EU. Petrides has described migration as the most classic example of European policy failing” and questioned the issue of solidarity as far as the refugee redistribution between the Member States is concerned.
He said asylum seekers in Cyprus will exceed 3.5% of the population. “Plus those who have already been offered protection, whether they are refugees or require additional protection. Together with that the percentage in Cyprus is the largest in the EU” he added. He criticised the anachronistic legislation governing the European legal framework that allows economic migrants to abuse the system.
Earlier this month it was announced that three locations near the Green Line have been pre-selected for the construction of the new (second) reception and accommodation centre for refugees arriving in Cyprus in search for a better tomorrow.
Cyprus has been facing increased migration flows in the past last three years, necessitating a new reception and accommodation centre, since the one in Kokkinotrimithia cannot accommodate any others. Additionally, cheap accommodation available for refugees and asylum seekers is hard to find nowadays, making the creation of a new Centre a matter of urgency.
The second reception and accommodation centre will be able to host 500 – 1,000 people and will operate in the wider area of Nicosia in a location which will soon be selected.
At the same time, a centre for vulnerable people coming from third countries is planned. It will be erected in Nicosia at a location indicated by the contractor: the University of Nicosia. The choice will be made by the end of the month as the procedures are at an advanced stage and will accommodate 40-50 people.
The ministry is also currently developing an innovative emergency housing programme which is funded by the European Commission. The project will soon be announced and will begin to house asylum seekers as of 2020. The funds available to find accommodation as needed, will amount to around one million euros. According to Petrides, this projects will be handled by the International Organisation for Migration, which is experienced in these issues and has implemented similar programmes elsewhere.
Since 2014, EU funding for Cyprus has reached almost €100m. Around €40m have been allocated to Cyprus by the Asylum, Migration and Integration Fund (AMIF), almost €52m by the Internal Security Fund and just over €4m for emergency assistance.
Statistics and facts
Asylum seekers come to Cyprus from the following countries: Syria, India, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Cameroon, Vietnam, Egypt, Georgia, Iraq, Sri Lanka (only first 10 were mentioned).
In April, University of Cyprus (UCY) and UNHCR Cyprus presented a study on the situation of refugees and asylum seekers in the country.
The study highlighted the biggest problems that refugees and asylum seekers face in Cyprus as the following:
- Inadequate monetary support for a decent standard of living
- Poor quality of living conditions in Reception Centres
- Delays and limitations stemming from the vouchers scheme
- Social Welfare Services are understaffed
- Insufficient psycho-social support
- Structural limitations in access to the labour market
- Unequal access to Health Services
- Unequal treatment of refugee and asylum seeker children in education
- Unequal treatment of adults
According to a UCY study, 55% Greek Cypriots view refugees and asylum seekers positively, 32% said they are neutral and 13% expressed negative feelings and perceptions about them.