Cyprus has relocated 48 of a promised 500 asylum seekers to Germany as part of a new EU 'solidarity mechanism'. It was the first relocation between the two member states.
On Monday (December 19), the Republic of Cyprus (RoC) transferred 48 asylum seekers to Germany under a voluntary pilot scheme that will eventually see 500 asylum seekers relocated to ease the burden on the island nation's strained asylum system, news agency AFP reported citing Cypriot authorities.
"This is the first of a series of transfers that will take place in the coming months," a Cypriot interior ministry statement said.
According to the ministry, the 48 applicants for international protection were relocated to Germany through the new European Union solidarity mechanism for voluntary relocation, a scheme set up in June this year to ease the burden on member states on the bloc's external borders.
Cyprus, which last year reported the highest number of asylum applicants per capita, says it is at the forefront of the EU's irregular migration flows. Earlier this month, Cypriot authorities said they repatriated nearly 7,000 migrants from their territory this year.
Cyprus has been divided along ethnic lines since 1974, when Turkey invaded following a coup widely seen as an attempt to prepare the island for a political unification with Greece. The Turkish-administered northern side declared independence nearly a decade later, but only Turkey recognizes it.
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Afghans and Syrians
The transfer to Germany was carried out in cooperation with the European Union Agency for Asylum (EUAA), the European Commission, the UN migration agency IOM and German authorities, the statement said. According to AFP, the relocations are funded by the EU and the IOM.
The German embassy in Nicosia said the first batch of asylum seekers were from Syria and Afghanistan.
"This is the first relocation to my country -- but it is only the beginning, because Germany wants to take in more eligible persons soon in order to relieve the burden on Cyprus," German ambassador Anke Schlimm was quoted as saying. Germany has agreed to take in 3,500 asylum seekers within a year.
"It contributes to addressing the migration challenges faced by the Mediterranean countries, especially Cyprus," it added.
With some 160,000 irregular migrant arrivals this year, Spain, Italy, Greece and the RoC are the four EU countries that receive by far the greatest number of Europe-bound migrants. Italy alone has registered almost 100,000 migrants arriving irregularly since the beginning of the year.
Overburdened asylum system
The RoC has seen a spike in irregular arrivals since last year. It has one of the highest per capita rates of first-time asylum seekers among all 27 European Union member states (relative to the countries' population size).
The Cypriot government in the capital Nicosia claims that asylum seekers comprise 6% of the Mediterranean island's population of 915,000, a record figure across the EU. As of October, more than 18,000 people had applied for asylum, interior minister Nicos Nouris reportedly said earlier in December. This compares to more than 13,000 for the whole of 2021, AFP reported.
Under the solidarity mechanism, which was agreed on by 21 member states, 10,000 people are supposed to be relocated each year. A 'coalition of the willing' is meant to take in migrants who have a chance of asylum.
The agreement, which also seeks to provide help through financial contributions, is to primarily benefit southern European countries bordering on the Mediterranean and on the Atlantic (namely Spain).
In late August, a group of 38 asylum seekers were the first migrants to be relocated under the scheme, from Italy to France. As of mid-November, only 117 asylum seekers had been transferred across the bloc, Euronews reported last month.
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