Since the beginning of 2022, the Cypriot authorities say they have repatriated nearly 7,000 migrants from their territory.
Relative to its population, that makes the Greek-speaking Republic of Cyprus’ the EU country with the highest number of repatriations in 2022.
According to Cypriot Interior Minister Nicos Nouris, Cyprus has sent almost 7,000 migrants back home this year. The Cypriot authorities report that is a little under half of the people who entered the country without papers this year, according to the news agency Associated Press (AP).
Several times this year, Cyprus' government has said that it is "overwhelmed" with the numbers of migrants crossing into its territory, mostly from the Turkish-controlled northern part of the island. Many migrants arrange visas to fly into Turkey and then can fly on from the Turkish mainland with the same visas to northern Cyprus. From there, they cross the highly pourous land border with the Greek-speaking south.
Strengthening the border defenses
Earlier this year, the government announced that it would be building higher fences along some sections of the border and adding surveillance equipment to try and control the border.
The announcement comes following a high-level European meeting on returns held in the Cypriot capital Nicosia. Nouris told other EU member states that Cyprus had carried out its return program by signing repatriation agreements with India, Bangladesh, Pakistan and Vietnam.
The returns process, reported AP, is "faciliated through a newly established office that coordinates between different state ministries and agencies, including the Asylum Service, police and the European border agency Frontex."
At the meeting, Nouris also suggested that the returns process be centrally managed by the bloc, and that more should be done to help stop migrants and people smugglers from trying to enter countries without permission.
The English-language newspaper Cyprus Mail said that Frontex figures showed that in the first 11 months of 2022, a total of 20,748 returns were registered across the whole of the EU. They said that was a 40% increase on 2021.
Frontex: 40 officers in Cyprus
In Cyprus itself, stated the Cyprus Mail, Frontex has 25 officers stationed, plus 15 officers responsible for returns. The Mail added that according to previous government reports, the majority of this year’s returns actually happened between July and November. In July, the government stated they had returned 2,770 people.
Before this year, many of those who were refused asylum by Cyprus ended up staying in the island nation, often due to the fact that there were no returns agreements in place with their country of origin.
In the past, Cyprus has also been criticized for the length its asylum process takes, with many asylum seekers reporting they waited, one, two or more years for an answer. The authorities have said that they are simply overwhelmed by the volume of requests relative to their population.
This year for instance, the permanent secretary to the Interior Ministry, Costas Constantinou, told MPs that at least 17,000 people crossed into the Republic of Cyprus, which is almost double the number that crossed in 2021. The number of unaccompanied minors has also tripled, stated the Cyprus Mail.
IOM programs in Cyprus
The paper commented that the government was shifting its focus on to repatriations in the face of an inability to reduce the numbers of actual arrivals. In addition to agreements with individual countries, Cyprus has two assisted voluntary returns programs in place.
The first is operated by the UN Migration Agency IOM, and the second by Cyprus' Civil Registration and Migration Deaprtment. According to the Cyprus Mail, Germany recently promised to take in 500 asylum seekers from Cyprus.
The IOM also runs various other programs on Cyprus. On October 26, it tweeted that it had offered 12 beneficiaries "from Democratic Republic of Congo, Cameroon and Somalia" who had been living in the Pournara Reception Center, the chance to live in "semi-independent living units run by IOM Cyprus in the Nicosia district."
Earlier in October, they offered nine unaccompanied children and two young teenagers from Somalia places in similar semi-independent living units.