Cyprus Wants No Part of EU Refugee, Migrant Processing Centers

FILE - In this Sunday, Sept. 10, 2017 file photo, migrants from Syria walk towards a refugee camp at Kokkinotrimithia, outside of the capital Nicosia, in the eastern Mediterranean island of Cyprus. (AP Photo/Petros Karadjias, File)

Saying it has taken in enough asylum seekers – more than 15,000 – Cyprus doesn’t want to be included in a European Union list of countries where control centers could be placed to process refugees and migrants.

The EU scheme is a plan to deal with the non-stop, if slowed, number of refugees and migrants who want to come to the bloc, which has closed its doors to them, dumping the problem largely on Greece, although Italy and Spain are also prime destinations.

So close to Turkey, where most of the refugees and migrants first go before human traffickers that country lets operate during a suspended swap program with the EU takes them on boats, mostly to Greek Aegean islands, Cyprus is also a spot where many land.

In 2017, Greece and Cyprus had the highest number of asylum seekers per million population in the EU with 5,295 and 5,235 and Cyprus had the highest rate in the first three months of 2018, with 1,551 applicants per million population, the Cyprus Mail reported in a story on the government’s reluctance to be one of the processing hubs.

The centers are designed to separate refugees fleeing war from migrants looking for jobs, and better economic conditions than the countries they fled but there are worries they could become dumping grounds and detention centers, as has happened in Greece.

There are also fears that these centres, while supposedly geared to distinguish between economic
The processing facilities formed part a ‘concept paper’ circulated by the Austrian EU rotating Presidency after a June 28 European Council on migration, although Cyprus was never given a copy, the paper reported.

The plan was for the so-called Controlled Centers in EU countries – only across the Mediterranean – on a voluntary basis, mostly to deal with those rescued at sea, a route which has taken the lives of many, including the short but perilous routes to Greece as well as Cyprus from Turkey.

The EU budget will cover all infrastructure and operational costs and will also grant 6,000 euros ($6853.50) per person relocated and 500 euros ($571.13) in transfer costs per person.

According to the document, “to avoid unnecessary movements of people that might be returned and ensure immediate assistance to those just disembarked, such centres could be set up in Spain, France, Italy, Malta, Croatia, Greece, and Cyprus.”

Interior Minister Constantinos Petrides told the Sunday Mail that Cyprus insisted on creation of an automatic mechanism for redistributing asylum seekers.
“We have serious reservations regarding the operation of large centers in Europe, especially in the absence of this mechanism,” he said. “There must be a holistic approach and not one that deals with the issues in piecemeal fashion.”

The EU has sought a common migration policy since 2015, when more than a million refugees and migrants, mostly from the Middle East and Africa, entered the bloc, putting a heavy burden on countries like Greece and Italy.

The Czech Republic and central European countries like Hungary, Poland and Slovakia don’t want a quota system to redistribute asylum seekers and were among those who reneged on pledges to help take overloads from Greece when the EU slammed shut the borders.

The idea was officially dropped at the EU summit in June, replaced with agreements to share out refugees on a voluntary basis and other measures to deal with asylum requests.

Cyprus’ government is anxious that as the war shows no sign of ending in Syria that more refugees will be forced to flee and many would choose nearby Cyprus, where many of them have families who’ve already gone there.

In 2015, when the Syrian war was raging, many refugees avoided Cyprus because of its tougher rules on migrants and because while a member of the EU it’s not included in the Schengen area, a passport-free zone allowing travel between countries.

In2014, Cyprus amended its laws so that those who are granted subsidiary protection are not able to bring family members from their home countries or other nations to which they’d escaped — known as the right to family reunification — or to travel freely outside Cyprus.

Many never registered with authorities so that they could more easily apply for asylum elsewhere in Europe, making Cyprus unattractive to asylum seekers.

Official statistics now show a 56 per cent rise in asylum applications in 2017 and around 40 per cent in the first five months of this year.

Between 2002 and 2017, some 10,000 foreigners were given asylum and subsidiary protection and there are about 3,000 pending applications fro 2017 and 2,435 so far in 2018, most from Syrians with Cypriot officials saying the island is now on the human trafficking route more.