EU: Turkish Cypriots must curb migrants arrivals to Cyprus

Migrants walk near the Pournara Emergency Reception center, in Kokkinotrimithia, on the outskirts of the capital Nicosia, Cyprus, April 18, 2022. (Photo: AP)

Breakaway Turkish Cypriots on ethnically-divided Cyprus must do their share in stemming migrant arrivals, a senior European Union official said Saturday, as the number of asylum-seekers has shot up significantly so far this year.

European Commission Vice President Margharitis Schinas said that Turkish Cypriot authorities should also be held accountable for curbing migrant arrivals.

“We won’t let the Turkish Cypriot community to consider itself neutral in what is going on,” Schinas said after visiting upgraded facilities at the Pournara migrant reception camp outside the capital. “They must also assume their share of responsibility and we’ll find a way to remind them.”

Cyprus was split along ethnic lines in 1974 when Turkey invaded following a coup aimed at union with Greece. Only Turkey recognizes a Turkish Cypriot declaration of independence. Cypriot government authorities say the overwhelming majority of migrant arrivals occurs via Turkey and the Turkish Cypriot north through a loosely regulated student visa system.

Thousands then cross a porous U.N.-controlled buffer zone to seek asylum in the Greek Cypriot south where the internationally recognized government is seated. Although Turkish Cypriots receive EU funding, only the south enjoys full membership benefits.

Schinas said EU Commissioner Elisa Ferreira will hold contacts in Cyprus in July to explore ways of best handling the issue. He also said Turkey has demonstrated a willingness to help ease the number of migrants arriving in Cyprus.

The EU will also help Cypriot authorities bolster monitoring and surveillance of the buffer zone to deter crossings in a way that is compatible with EU law since the 180-kilometer-long (120-mile-long) area isn't a formal border, Schinas said.

Cyprus Interior Minister Nicos Nouris said the number of asylum-seekers doubled to 10,000 in the first five months of this year compared to the same period in 2021, repeating that they make up an EU high of 5% of Cyprus’ 915,000-strong population in the south.

He said that Cypriot authorities are working with the EU to facilitate the return of asylum-seekers whose claims have been rejected as well as more funding from the 27 member-nation bloc to the tune of 72 million euros to build a new migrant reception center.

Although overcrowding at the Pournara center has been greatly alleviated in recent months, a 27-year-old Nigerian, Miracle Chidiebera, said there’s still plenty of anger among migrants over what he said is a chronic lack of water, poor food and congested facilities.