Refugees and migrants now starting to prefer Cyprus as a way to get to a European Union country are landing in the northern third occupied by Turkey since an unlawful 1974 invasion as a way to make their way onto the side run by the legitimate government.
A buffer zone through the capital of Nicosia is patrolled by United Nations peacekeepers but the migrants and refugees are managing to get across, the Cyprus Mail said, although they have essentially no chance of moving on from there as the European Union has closed its borders to them, dumping the problem mostly on Greece and Italy.
‘’Turkish Cypriot authorities don't require advance visas for passengers arriving from Turkey,’’ the paper said, noting others arrive directly in southern Cyprus on rickety smuggling vessels from Turkey or Lebanon, where they went to flee war and strife in their countries, especially Syria's long-running civil war.
There's a backlog of 8,000 asylum applications and it takes three to five years to process a claim, including appeals, the Cyprus Mail quoted Corina Drousiotou, who heads the Cyprus Refugee Council, a non-profit group, as saying.
The EU’s European Asylum Support office is deploying 29 case workers plus interpreters to help Cyprus clear the backlog, it said, and has given Cyprus almost 40 million euros ($45.5 million) for migration management for the period between 2014-2020.
Seeing more refugees and migrants starting to pour onto the island, Cypriot President Nicos Anastasiades told the European Parliament that other EU countries need to take some after closing its borders to them.
He said Cyprus, which had been mostly bypassed by refugees and migrants sent by human traffickers from Turkey to Greek islands, is now becoming a key destination for them, putting a strain on resources and creating “excessive pressure” on the island where Turkey has unlawfully occupied the northern third since a 1974 invasion.
Anastasiades pointed to Cyprus's ethnic division as exacerbating the problem, as well as Turkey's refusal to cooperate with Cypriot authorities on border patrols and illegal migration.
Cypriot authorities say nearly half of all migrants arriving enter from the island's breakaway, Turkish Cypriot north and cross into the internationally recognized south through a porous, United Nations-controlled buffer zone.
(Material from the Associated Press was used in this report)