The Republic of Cyprus and FRONTEX have reached an agreement to set up an action plan for the return of migrants whose asylum applications have been rejected, to their countries of origin as Cyprus is facing a “most urgent need”, said the FRONTEX chief Fabrice Leggeri after a meeting with Interior Minister Nicos Nouris.
The Cypriot Minister said the plan includes beefing up the support which FRONTEX offers to the Republic of Cyprus by bringing in experts in the field of returns to confirm the identity of the migrants and arrange for their return.
The plan also provides for regular repatriation flights with FRONTEX fully incurring the cost as well as providing technical support to upgrade and develop migration management systems in the field of returns.
The agreement will be signed in the next few days, said Nouris and will be added to a series of agreements already prepared to help Cyprus deal with the urgent situation which it faces due to the daily arrival of migrants, an 85% from the Green Line as migrants arrive to Cyprus from the Turkish occupied north via Turkey.
As a frontline member state, he said Cyprus bears the migratory impact and requires support from the EU. These agreements, said Nouris, will be a practical proof of FRONTEX’s help, support and solidarity to the Republic of Cyprus.
Replying to questions, Nouris said the regular visits of European officials in the last weeks which will culminate with the arrival of European Commission Vice President Margaritis Schinas next weekend, show the EU’s practical support and understanding of the migrant problem Cyprus is facing.
Cyprus, he added, is the EU member state with the greatest number of migrant arrivals in recent years and this depicts the difficult situation “we find ourselves in and which needs the immediate and effective support of EU organisations on return issues, starting with FRONTEX.”
The root of the problem, he added, is Turkey since arrivals originate from Turkey, adding that the Interior Ministry is focusing on managing the Green Line and increasing the number of returns. A return flight has been arranged with Germany on 8 March as well as a return flight to Vietnam as well as others that are being planned.
On his part, Leggeri said Cyprus is facing an “extraordinary challenge” that requires “extraordinary support” from FRONTEX.
He said the discussions, which he described as technical, were “very fruitful” to increase and beef up return. One of FRONTEX’s mandates is to support returns, repatriation of irregular migrants back to their country of origin.
“We will do this using the means of the agency and using the mandate that we have, so we can deploy staff of the European Standing Corps in order to provide expertise, support in return, we can organise consular missions, so that the authorities of foreign countries come to Cyprus to identify their nationals in order to confirm the identification, that they are from the country we suspect they are from,” he noted. This way, he added, “we intend to get the authorisation to return them back to their country.”
They also discussed operational cooperation for the flights. According to Leggeri, there are different possibilities. The agency can work together with other member states and use synergies, support, flights organised by other member states and also organised by Cyprus, or flights can be initiated that will depart from Cyprus in order to take the returnees back to the country of origin.
“This is an endeavour, of course that is in our mandate,” said Leggeri, noting that the important message that he wants to convey that “in the mandate of the European Border and Coast Guard Agency ( FRONTEX ) there is this possibility, to support member states facing extraordinary situations.”
Leggeri said he realised even more the challenges that Cyprus is facing, “a proportion of the population a proportion of the size of the Republic of Cyprus it’s an extraordinary challenge that also requires from FRONTEX extraordinary support”.
He said FRONTEX will use the European Standing Corps which is right now a European Force with a staff of 2000. Their mandate, he added, is to monitor the border to carry out checks. Return is the focus he said, “that’s the most urgent need that we have identified but we can also do more with different activities for example forged documents, in the border crossing points. The operational plan will be the road map, the plan for our teams to work together”.