The government of Cyprus says that it has already received more than 700 applications for asylum so far this year. The island nation, which has seen a spike in irregular arrivals in recent years, says it is encountering a "migration crisis", propelled by Turkey.
More than 700 people have filed an application for asylum in Cyprus since the start of the year, according to a report in the Cypriot daily Phileleftheros on Wednesday, January 19.
Last year, the Greek-administered part of the island received close to 13,500 asylum applications, according to the Phileleftheros. From all the applications submitted in recent years, the authorities reviewed a record number of 16,549 applications in 2021. Currently, 19,000 applications are reportedly still pending.
The Greek-administered part of the island, which is part of the EU and has a population of 1.2 million, had one of the highest numbers of asylum applications per capita in the entire EU in 2020, according to the bloc's official statistics.
The Cypriot immigration authorities say they are overstretched and struggle to deal with the unabatated flow of migrants to the island.
Overcrowding at camps
The island's two reception centers, one near the capital Nicosia and the other near the port city of Larnaca, are both notoriously overcrowded. Most of the newcomers have been forced to sleep outside the camps, reported the Phileleftheros.
The newspaper says that Interior Minister Nicos Nourisis is planning to ask for EU funding to build another camp on its eastern shores, where the asylum applications could be processed faster.
In November 2021, Cypriot authorities sought to get the European Commission’s approval to suspend asylum seekers' applications for all the 'irregular migrants,' claiming that they are facing a 'demographic change' and 'acute socio-economic effects.'
'A crisis created by Turkey'
Most migrants arrive on Cyprus by boat from the Turkish mainland. They come ashore in the Turkish-Cypriot north of the island and then pass through a porous 'green line' – a buffer zone patrolled by the UN peacekeeping forces that splits the island between the Turkish Cypriot part and the internationally recognized Greek Cypriot southern part.
The Phileleftheros report claimed that gangs of smugglers charged between €300 to 500 (340 to 567 dollars) for smuggling migrants across the dividing line into the Greek-Cypriot south, where they then can apply for asylum in the EU, reports dpa.
Moreover, Cyprus blames Turkey for allowing irregular migrants to cross from the north.
"Turkey’s stance has led to the creation ... of a new migration route in the eastern Mediterranean, which disproportionally burdens Cyprus, and places enormous strain on the national asylum system," said the nation's foreign and interior ministries in a joint statement to the EU Parliament in February 2021. The ministries said they would raise "the extent of the migration crisis faced by Cyprus" in Brussels to ensure the government "receives the assistance required to effectively address it."
Turkey, hosting more than 3.6 million Syrian refugees, "could flood the island if wanted," Corina Drousiotou from the Cyprus Refugee Council told news agency AFP in December.
With dpa, AFP