Cyprus has struck a deal with the European Union to help improve the country’s migrant reception facilities. Under the new agreement it will also be easier for Cyprus to send back rejected asylum seekers.
The Cypriot interior minister, Nicos Nouris, and the EU Home Affairs Commissioner, Ylva Johansson, have signed a landmark agreement on irregular migration.
"Today is a milestone for the Republic of Cyprus and efforts made by the government to manage a problem that has plagued our country," Nouris said at the signing ceremony on Monday, February 21.
The agreement is intended to help Cyprus to manage the relatively large number of migrants arriving in the country. The government of Cyprus says that it has received more migrants per capita than any other EU member state.
Johansson tweeted that the deal would help Cyprus implement "timely asylum procedures" to reduce the backlog, "establish effective integration and improve the efficiency of returns."
The Republic of Cyprus accuses Turkey, whose troops have since 1974 occupied the island's northern third, of encouraging migrants from Syria and sub-Saharan Africa across the UN-patrolled Green Line that divides the island.
Cyprus authorities say that every day, irregular migrants, guided by smugglers, cross over from the north, with 85% of asylum seekers last year having arrived in this way.
Last year, new asylum applications in Cyprus exceeded 13,000. The entire population of the Republic is just 850,000.
According to the EU's border agency, Frontex, the number of migrants and asylum seekers who arrived in Cyprus in January grew by 48% compared to last year.
The most represented nationalities were from the Democratic Republic of Congo, Syria and Nigeria.
Nouris accuses asylum cheats
The interior minister said Monday that the instrumentalization of immigration should be stopped. He also claimed that some people were attempting to defraud the country by claiming asylum.
"Exploitation of the asylum system by persons who do not need international protection deprives the state of the ability to provide effective hospitality, care and support to those in real need," Nouris said.
The head of Frontex, Fabrice Leggeri, said in Nicosia last week that the island faces an "extraordinary challenge" that requires "extraordinary support."
With APF, Reuters