The Cypriot government has lashed out at Turkey, saying it was indirectly involved in helping create a new migration route that "disproportionally burdened" Cyprus. The island nation and EU member state has had the bloc’s highest percentage of asylum seekers for several years.
The Republic of Cyprus has seen an influx in asylum seekers in recent weeks and months, with many migrants entering the southern part of the country by illegally crossing the UN-patrolled buffer zone that divides the island between the Greek-majority south and a self-declared breakaway Turkish Cypriot state in the north.
Cyprus said it has had the highest proportion of asylum applications in the EU for four consecutive years. About four percent of Cyprus' population is currently made up of asylum seekers — a number that is more than four times as high as the EU average. Cyprus also has the highest number of first-time asylum applications in the EU per capita. Authorities say they are overwhelmed and cannot cope with the high number of arrivals.
Cypriot Foreign Minister Nikos Christodoulides and Interior Minister Nikos Nouris stressed last week that "the gravity and scale" and "disproportional weight Cyprus shoulders from migration flows" was not sustainable. They added that the issue of migration would feature prominently on their agendas ahead of a March 15 teleconference of EU foreign and home affairs ministers, as well as during "upcoming discussions on Turkey at EU level."
Cyprus has been a member of the European Union since 2004; however, its north is only recognized as a separate entity by the Turkish government and does not fall under EU jurisdiction. Decades of talks to try to reunify the island have repeatedly failed.
Cyprus in 'urgent need' for help
The Cypriot foreign and interior ministries further announced in a joint statement that "the overwhelming majority of migration flows originated from Turkey, a country that fails to implement all agreements regarding migration towards Cyprus. For example, it is slow to react to smugglers taking migrants away from Turkish shores and to Cyprus or to the Greek islands.
"In fact, Turkey's stance has led to the creation, rather than prevention, of a new migration route in the eastern Mediterranean, which disproportionally burdens Cyprus, and places enormous strain on the national asylum system," the statement said.
The comments were in relation to the 2016 EU-Turkey agreement, which guaranteed financial aid to Turkey in return for helping to stop migrants and refugees from entering Europe. Turkey has been accused of failing to uphold its end of the bargain, and also of threatening to quit the agreement repeatedly, alleging that the EU funds were not fully paid.
The Cypriot government in Nicosia said that there was an "urgent need" for the European Commission and other international organizations to assist the island nation at this time. The government plans to highlight "the extent of the migration crisis faced by Cyprus" in Brussels to ensure it "receives the assistance required to effectively address it."
The European Asylum Support Office (EASO) assists with migration issues in Cyprus.