British police officers control a drone with cameras near the British Dhekelia military base on Cyprus on July 6, 2021 | Photo: Petros Karadjias/ AP
British police officers control a drone with cameras near the British Dhekelia military base on Cyprus on July 6, 2021 | Photo: Petros Karadjias/ AP

Authorities at a British military base on Cyprus have hired additional officers and procured detection equipment to better thwart irregular immigration. The move comes as more migrants have continued to arrive from the Turkish-administered northern part of the island.

According to the Associated Press news agency, 24 new customs officers and four SUVs, two of them with thermal imaging cameras, have been added to the British military base. The reinforcement allows authorities to patrol around-the-clock along a 45-kilometer boundary that divides Cyprus, customs and immigration chief Adam Chatfield said.

Over the past three years, there has been an increase in migrant arrivals in the south, from 17 people trying to cross in six instances in 2018 to 33 people in 16 crossing attempts a year later. Last year, 67 people were intercepted in nine attempted crossings.

On Tuesday (July 6), police in the Turkish Cypriot northern part of the island intercepted 22 migrants, including four minors, who were trying to cross into the southern part with the help of human smugglers after arriving on the island from Turkey. International human smuggling gangs routinely bring migrants to Cyprus from Turkey -- a distance of only 70 kilometers at the closest point.

According to the mayor of Kato Pyrgos on the southern part of the island, the group had made it to the south by taking a path across the border. The migrants said they had each paid €3,000 to the smugglers for the passage and for taking them across the inner-Cyprus border. Cyprus' national broadcaster reported that the smugglers have since vanished.

A police customs vehicle travels near the British Dhekelia military base on Cyprus on July 6, 2021 | Photo: Petros Karadjias/ AP
A police customs vehicle travels near the British Dhekelia military base on Cyprus on July 6, 2021 | Photo: Petros Karadjias/ AP


The eastern Mediterranean island of Cyprus has been divided along ethnic lines since 1974, when Turkey invaded following a coup aimed at union with Greece. The breakaway Turkish-administered northern side declared independence nearly a decade later, but only Turkey recognizes it and maintains more than 35,000 troops there, according to AP.

The southern part of the island, separated from the north by a buffer zone controlled by UN peacekeepers, is the internationally-recognized Republic of Cyprus (RoC). Although the whole island has been a European Union member state since 2004, EU laws and rules apply only in the island's south.

Crossing the 'Green Line'

"Dhekelia Garrison, one of two military bases the UK retained after Cyprus gained independence from British colonial rule in 1960, directly abuts the north along a corridor of farmland, abandoned homes and fields that offers secluded routes for smugglers, or for migrants to cross," AP reported.

Migrants then take the well-trodden route of sneaking across the dividing buffer zone, or 'Green Line,' into the RoC. The 200-kilometer UN-controlled demarcation line is controlled by police and military personnel.

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


Customs and immigration chief Chatfield told AP that authorities typically intercepted the migrants in groups of ten to 20 around once a month.

In the south, the vast majority of asylum seekers are Syrian men. According to AP, authorities on the base have an agreement with the government of the Turkish-administered side to transfer asylum seekers to the south where their claims are processed. There are arrangements in place to return those who don't apply for asylum to the north, Chatfield said.

People who want to cross the Green Line usually have to pay €4,200 each to an international network of smugglers to reach the south, according to Chatfield.

"Some come soaking wet straight from the boat with nothing but the clothes on their back," he told AP. "Detecting traffickers is a key priority for us and we'll continue to do so.''

New migration route

Earlier this year, Cyprus accused Turkey of deliberately channeling migrants in from the north. It has also repeatedly requested EU assistance, among other things from border agency Frontex, to deal with the arriving migrants and alleviate its overcrowded migrant camps.

The asylum camps on the small island republic are severely overcrowded. In relation to the size of its population, Cyprus received the highest number of asylum applications in 2020, according to EU statistics.

From file: Migrant camp on Cyprus | Photo: C. Assi/getty
From file: Migrant camp on Cyprus | Photo: C. Assi/getty


The government says its ability to host more migrants has been stretched beyond its limits. It also wants the EU to manage the arrival of Syrians -- either directly from Syria or from Lebanon or Turkey, including relocating them to other EU states.

Officials say some 3,900 Syrians have reached Cyprus from Turkey in the last two years, usually flying into the north before crossing southward.

International Organization for Migration (IOM) figures show that more than 3,800 people have arrived in the RoC in the first five months of this year, already more than the some 3,000 in all of last year and around half as many as in all of 2019. Only around 15% of this year's arrivals came by sea, including from Lebanon, where authorities stopped numerous attempts to smuggle migrants to Cyprus over the past year.

With AP, dpa

 

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