NICOSIA (AFP) – The small Mediterranean island of Cyprus has an outsized problem with irregular migration, said the Interior Minister of the European Union (EU) member state located closest to the Middle East.
“For us, this is a state of emergency,” Nicos Nouris told AFP, adding that 4.6 per cent of the country’s population now are asylum seekers or beneficiaries of protection, the highest ratio in the EU.
The Greek Cypriot minister accused Turkey, whose troops have since 1974 occupied the island’s northern third, of encouraging much of the influx of Syrian refugees and arrivals from sub-Saharan Africa.
Rights groups and observers have criticised Cyprus for squalid conditions in its overcrowded main migrant camp, which was rocked by clashes this month, and for alleged brutal treatment of some arrivals.
But Nouris shot back that “brutal is what Turkey has been doing to us” as new asylum applications had multiplied to over 13,000 last year in the country of 850,000.
“The migration issue in Cyprus is a huge problem because it’s been instrumentalised by Turkey,” the minister from the conservative Democratic Rally party charged.
The Republic of Cyrus remains sharply at odds with Turkey, which under a deal with the EU hosts millions of Syrian refugees, and which contests potential offshore oil and gas reserves claimed by Cyprus.
Nouris charged that every day some 60 to 80 irregular migrants, guided by smugglers, cross the United Nations (UN)-patrolled 184-kilometre long Green Line that dissects the island, with 85 per cent of asylum seekers last year having arrived in this way.
The top country of origin for pending asylum applications in 2021 remained Syria, but next came Cameroon, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Nigeria and Somalia, according to the ministry.
Many of the newcomers, Nouris said, fly via Istanbul to the northern breakaway statelet recognised only by Ankara. “From there, with the smugglers, they find a way through the Green Line.”