The Cypriot interior minister said on Tuesday that the EU and its border agency Frontex have helped to streamline procedures to return rejected asylum seekers. The number of people arriving on the island nation lately has been soaring.
Interior Minister Nicos Nouris said Tuesday (February 1) that the "Standard Operation Procedures for Returns" have been finalized and will be "continuously tested'' during voluntary and forced returns over the next few months to identify and fix any problems.
A Memorandum of Understanding is also expected to be signed soon to detail the actions needed to control migrant movements to Cyprus as well as the assistance that EU bodies like EASO and Frontex can lend in managing migrant flows.
Frontex Vice President Margaritis Schinas is scheduled to visit the island nation on February 20 in a further show of support. This builds on a meeting last month between Nouris and Patrick Austin, the Head of Operations at EASO.
Cyprus overwhelmed with asylum numbers
The protocol applied by the EU in assessing the repatriation of failed asylum cases in member states presented is called the Standard Operation Procedures for Returns. As Cyprus gradually introduces the system in coming months, it will reportedly remain under constant review, as voluntary and forced returns are going to keep immigration officials in Cyprus busy over the next few months.
Nouris said that Cyprus was "making, through a very structured program, a very big effort for the effective management of migration flows."
He also told reporters after talks with Beate Gminder, the head of the European Commission's Migration Management Task Force, that Cyprus saw 1,335 new asylum applications in January alone, witness in a doubling in numbers compared to numbers for the same month two years ago.
Nouris said the country examined 16,000 asylum applications in total last year (the majority of which had been filed in the last 12 months) of which nearly 13,000 were rejected.
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Gminder said the EU would offer additional funds to bolster migrant reception facilities in Cyprus after Nouris reiterated that the island has long exceeded its capacities to host new arrivals. She added that the EU recognizes the challenges Cyprus is facing, and pledges further support.
The situation in Cyprus had become so intense in late 2021, that the Cypriot government asked the EU to allow to have its asylum system suspended.
Cypriot history informs current migration situation
He added that 85% of those who applied for asylum had entered Cyprus from the breakaway north of the island nation. Cyprus effectively was split into two territories in 1974 when Turkey invaded the island from the north. This happened in response to a coup d’etat in Cyprus, which was widely seen as an attempt to prepare the island for a political unification with Greece.
Cyprus has been accusing Turkey of actively migration into the EU member state; Nouris said most of migrant arrivals in Cyprus originate from sub-Saharan African countries -- especially the Democratic Republic of Congo. He alleged that they usually arrive arrive in the breakaway north from Turkey’s Istanbul airport or its southern sea ports. He says these migrant then cross the border to get to the south of the island, which is considered to be EU territory.
A buffer zone between the North and the South (known colloquially as the "green zone"), has been in place for 48 years to keep the halves of the island at peace. The fact that this green zone is controlled by the UN has also meant that neither the south nor the north have much control over the de facto border between the two parts.
With AP, Ekathimerini Cyprus