NICOSIA — Cyprus' Interior Minister Nicos Nouris said 78 percent of people arriving on the island seeking asylum are not refugees and ineligible, indicating they are not fleeing for their lives but looking for work and better economic conditions.
Speaking to the European Union's Monitoring Committee for Home Affairs he said that they are being hoodwinked by profiteers sending them to the island with dreams of work and a better life.
“They deceive the immigrants by advertising Cyprus as their opportunity to enter Europe. Most of the arrivals aim to go to mainland Europe, but are unaware that our country is not a member of the Schengen area which would allow them to cross unchecked to other member states,” he said, The Cyprus Mail said.
“As a result, our country becomes a gathering place for thousands of immigrants seeking international protection, even if their lives are not really threatened. Not all immigrants left their homeland for the same reason,” he added.
While Cyprus is a member of the EU it is not in the area where people can travel freely between countries without a visa, locking in those who come to the island thinking they can move on to others in the bloc.
While Cyprus, despite its proximity to the Middle East and war-torn countries like Syria and Afghanistan hasn't been a prime destination for refugees he said that it has received too many.
“We constantly warn our European partners that the situation in Cyprus exceeds our limits and our capabilities, preventing the proper management of these flows and the effective and methodical implementation of actions for the integration of third country nationals in our society,” he added.
“The numbers are relentless for Cyprus both in terms of population and the demographic impact,” reporting that in 2019 there were 17,000 asylum applications, a hike of more than 500 percent since refugees and migrants began pouring into the EU through Turkey.
He said more than 35,000 people had been given international protection, some 3.5 percent of the island's population, equivalent to 3.6 million being given the same status in Germany, a top destination for them.
He said that downturns this year in arrivals was due to the COVID-19 pandemic that has kept people from moving on and with international air traffic at a near standstill and not seen recovering for some time.
Since the beginning of this year, despite the pandemic measures, he said, Cyprus had been able to carry out 1,250 voluntary returns by migrants to their countries of origin with EU co-financed programs.
“Cyprus is one of the front-line countries under intense pressure from the immigration and refugee crisis,” Nouris said. “But we guard part of the European Union’s external borders, so we have an obligation to our partners and we try to be effective. The problem of illegal immigration is not only a problem of Cyprus. It is a problem for the whole EU,” he added, the paper said.