On Wednesday, November 10, the Republic of Cyprus announced that it was submitting a request to the European Commission in order to suspend applications for asylum for all those who arrive in the country without the correct papers.
"A request will be submitted to the European Commission to take action in favor of the Republic of Cyprus, including granting it the right to suspend asylum applications by people entering the country illegally," government spokesperson Marios Pelekanos told reporters, including the press agency Agence France Presse (AFP).
The announcement came as the English-language local newspaper Cyprus Mail reported that 61 more migrants, believed to be from Lebanon and Syria, had arrived in the Cypriot port of Paphos. The migrants told the authorities that they had bought the boat and were steering it themselves.
According to the Cyprus Mail, they had been hoping to sail from Lebanon to Italy but bad weather forced them to seek a port in Cyprus instead. The group, the paper wrote, was made up of 11 women, 22 men and 28 children. The children ranged from two to 16 years of age.
Food, water and blankets
One child, in need of medical care, and its mother, reported the Cyprus Mail were taken to hospital to be given first aid, before being taken back to the boat. The migrants spent a night on their boat in port and were given food, water and blankets by Cyprus civil defense teams.
The Cyprus Mail said that the authorities, who have an agreement with neighboring Lebanon to send migrants back who arrive in Cyprus, was consulting whether they could send the group back or not.
Cyprus, according to AFP, has the greatest number of first-time asylum applications per head of population among all 27 EU member states. Many migrants arrive by sea from Lebanon on the eastern side of the Mediterranean. Others fly in via Turkey and then northern Cyprus which is under Turkish Control (Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus). They then cross the Green Line border between the nations on the island.
Increase in numbers of migrants entering Cyprus
Cypriot government spokesperson Pelekanos said that the numbers of migrants entering Cyprus in 2021 were "38% higher than all of last year," AFP reported. To the end of October, 10,868 migrants crossed into Cyprus without permission or the correct papers. The majority of those, more than 9,000 crossed the Green Line reported AFP.
Relations between the Greek speaking Republic of Cyprus and the Turkish speaking northern neighbors have been relatively tense since 1974 when a Greek Cypriot coup attempted to unite the island and then Turkish troops invaded from the north.
The authorities in the south say that there are more than 33,000 migrants "illegally residing in the republic." Many humanitarian organizations working with migrants in Cyprus report that asylum applications can take years to complete. In the meantime, people have to get by on little or no state aid and finding jobs to work, even when the rules often forbid them from working. This can lead to exploitative and insecure work, often with low wages and no recourse to the authorities if things go wrong.
"The percentage of asylum seekers exceeds 4% of the population, when in the rest of the EU frontline countries it does not exceed 1%," stated Pelekanos to AFP. The government held an emergency meeting to try and come up with more measures to reduce the numbers of people arriving in the country.
According to AFP, measures include asking the EU to relocate some of those asylum seekers who have already arrived in Cyprus, as well as pushing harder to repatriate those who do not qualify for asylum back to their countries of origin.
Pelekanos told AFP that at least 15,000 people in Cyprus had had their asylum applications rejected but could not be deported because of a lack of a coherent policy from the EU, or between the EU and their home countries.
With AFP and Cyprus Mail