NICOSIA — With more refugees and migrants seeking asylum on Cyprus instead of using the island to reach other European Union countries, the government said it can’t cope and needs help from the bloc.
That came after the European Union’s Commissioner for Human Rights, Dunja Mijatović, said Cyprus repelled refugees and migrants trying to reach the island’s shores and needs to stop, and also improve treatment of asylum seekers who landed.
In what was said to be an especially critical reprimand, the British newspaper The Guardian reported she singled out Cyprus although Greece has repeatedly been accused by activists and rights groups of the same practice.
She added that expulsions should be investigated without indicating why they hadn’t already been probed after complaints from rights groups.
“I have received a number of reports indicating that boats carrying migrants, including persons who may be in need of international protection, have been prevented from disembarking in Cyprus, and summarily returned, sometimes violently,” she wrote to Interior Minister Nicos Nouris, the paper said.
“Cyprus is a country which is at the receiving end of the biggest inflows as a percentage of its population, with the risk of demographic changes,” deputy government spokesman Viktor Papadopoulos told reporters, said Reuters.
“The capability of the Republic of Cyprus in accommodating these people has been exhausted,” he said, with officials there saying asylum seekers now make up 4 percent of the population of 850,000 on the side of the island that’s a member of the EU.
Turkey has unlawfully occupied the northern third since a 1974 invasion and Greek-Cypriot officials said the dividing line in the capital Nicosia has seen refugees and migrants in the north crossing over.
But Corina Demetriou, an expert in human rights, told the news agency that Cyprus is exaggerating how many refugees and migrants want to stay on the island and be given asylum.
“It is not correct,”she said. “This (4 percent) is a very gross inflation of the number,” she added, with human rights groups also adding that Cyprus may be using accumulated figures of two decades, since it opened up asylum processes in 2002. It also distorts a situation where persons may have integrated into society, left the island, or died, they said.
Based on data of the island’s asylum service, Cyprus – a country half the size of Wales – received 7,094 asylum applications in 2020, falling almost by half compared to 2019, the news agency reported.
But the government has gotten tougher, putting up razor wire at one blind spot along the so-called Green Line that’s guarded by United Nations peacekeepers, although people with passports can cross back and forth.