yprus is the most eastern EU country and located much closer to Syria and Turkey than the rest of the EU | Credit: France24
yprus is the most eastern EU country and located much closer to Syria and Turkey than the rest of the EU | Credit: France24

Cyprus announced it would be launching a "blitz" SMS campaign in order to try and deter migrants from coming to the country. Many have arrived thinking that Cyprus is a gateway to the rest of the EU. That is not the case, says the government.

The Cypriot Interior Minister Nicos Nouris announced on Sunday, May 31 that the country's SMS campaign would try and "dispel the mistaken belief that Cyprus is a gateway to the EU," reported the news agency Associated Press (AP).

Nouris told AP that people traffickers had been giving would-be migrants the impression that once they sought asylum in Cyprus they would essentially have a "passport" to the rest of the EU.

In reality, said Nouris, migrants are "effectively trapped," in Cyprus because although it is part of the EU it is not part of the Schengen area, which essentially allows for frictionless borders with no internal controls. Therefore leaving the island nation would require the correct papers and passport to board a plane or boat.

'The message is clear'

"The message is clear," writes Vatican News. "Those attempting to disembark on the island will receive warning that they are effectively trapped."

The latest data on the government of Cyprus' migration ministry website dates from 2016. However, AP quotes the government saying that about 3.8% of the 880,000 population of the island are migrants and asylum seekers.

In recent years, says Vatican News, migrants have arrived from Syria, Bangladesh, India, Pakistan, Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan, Libya and other countries in North Africa. Recently some people are starting to arrive from sub-Saharan African countries like Cameroon too. Some arrive by boat but many fly via Turkey to Turkish administered northern Cyprus and then cross the porous "green line" border which divides the island nation in half.

Once they have crossed though, they do effectively find themselves trapped. Although asylum claims should be dealt with within six months, many reports say that asylum seekers are waiting up to three years for a response from the authorities.

Asylum seekers in Cyprus

The small population of the island means that Cyprus has "by a wide margin," one of the greatest number of asylum seekers per head of population in the EU bloc. AP reported that the Cypriot government registered a 130% increase in the number of people seeking asylum in the country in 2019 compared to numbers in 2018.

In 2019, over 13,000 people sought asylum for the first time in Cyprus, according to Asylum Service statistics published by the Cyprus Refugee Council (CRC) and the Asylum Information Database (AIDA). Only 147 people were granted refugee status on the island in 2019 and 1,149 were granted subsidiary protection. The majority of those applying for asylum in 2019 came from Syria.

According to the CRC, in 2019 the amount provided to asylum seekers in benefits, which was given in a mixture of vouchers and cash was just €261 per person per month. The amount given to EU citizens in need of the same social benefits (housing, food, clothes etc.) was set at €480 in cash.

Although lockdown restrictions were lifted in Cyprus on May 23, about 700 migrants are still being quarantined following an outbreak of scabies. The migrants affected are being held in detention in a center outside of the capital Nicosia, reported InfoMigrants French.

 

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