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

UN peacekeepers in Cyprus have said that three-year-old twins lost in the buffer zone dividing the Mediterranean island are safe. Over the past few years, thousands of migrants and refugees have crossed the buffer zone into Cyprus from the Turkish-administered northern part of the island.

The female twins had been separated from their parents in no man's land, the United Nations peacekeeping mission in Cyprus said Tuesday (February 15).

The children reportedly got lost in the dark when the family attempted to cross the UN-patrolled buffer zone -- a border line that divides Cyprus into the Turkish-administered north and the internationally recognized Republic of Cyprus (RoC) in the south.

Citing United Nations information, news agency AFP reported that one girl was found cold, wet and scared by a UN patrol before dawn on Tuesday without her sister. Patrols continued the search throughout Tuesday until the UN confirmed in the late afternoon that the second girl had been found "safe and uninjured".

The parents told authorities in the north they had lost their children in the buffer zone near Athienou, located some 20 kilometers southeast of the divided capital Nicosia.

Razor wire along the southern side of the UN buffer zone that cuts across ethnically divided Cyprus near the village of Astromeritis on March 9, 2021 | Photo: Petros Karadjias/AP/picture-alliance
Razor wire along the southern side of the UN buffer zone that cuts across ethnically divided Cyprus near the village of Astromeritis on March 9, 2021 | Photo: Petros Karadjias/AP/picture-alliance


Aleem Siddique, spokesman for the UN peacekeeping force in Cyprus, said troops had been "supporting the local police services" searching for the girl "inside the buffer zone".

This buffer zone, a ceasefire line some 180 kilometers long and up to eight kilometers wide, is fortified in places with wire fences. Migrants and refugees seeking to go from the breakaway northern part of the island to the Republic of Cyprus need to cross it.

Also read: Repatriation key to easing migration pressure in Cyprus

Highest per-capita asylum rate

Cyprus has been divided along ethnic lines since 1974, when Turkey invaded following a coup aimed at union with Greece. The Turkish-administered northern side declared independence nearly a decade later, but only Turkey recognizes it and maintains more than 35,000 troops there, news agency AP reported in July 2021.

Although the whole of Cyprus has been a European Union member state since 2004, EU laws and rules apply only in the island's south.

The eastern Mediterranean island nation has seen a spike in irregular arrivals in recent years along with one of the highest first-time asylum seekers per capita rate among all European Union member states (relative to the countries' population size). In 2020, the country of 1.2 million people topped the list with 8,448 first-time asylum requests per one million residents.

From July to September last year, Cyprus was again the EU country with the highest per-capita rate with 3,462, followed by Austria (1,339) and Lithuania (982). That's according to the latest data released by EU statistics agency Eurostat.

In terms of absolute numbers, the trend is upward: Compared to the same period in 2020, the number of first-time asylum applications in the third quarter of 2021 was 88% higher. Overall, close to 11,000 such applications were filed in Cyprus in the 12-month period from October 2020 through September 2021, according to Eurostat. The Cypriot immigration authorities say they are overstretched and struggle to deal with the unabated arrivals of migrants to the island.

Read more: Riot police fire warning shots at migrants in Cyprus

With AFP, AP

 

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