NICOSIA — The repatriations of migrants who have had their asylum applications rejected is essential to easing overcrowding and reducing violence at a migrant reception camp, Cyprus’ interior minister said Wednesday.
Minister Nicos Nouris told state broadcaster CyBC that 35 migrants suffered minor wounds during an altercation between rival groups of underage migrants at the Pournara camp on the outskirts of the capital, Nicosia.
Nouris said Nigerian and Congolese youths housed at the camp attacked each other over a “totally insignificant reason” that began at the facility’s basketball court. He said riot police had to be called in to restore order.
That incident was preceded the previous evening by more violence during which Nouris said one youth threatened a police officer with a knife.
Cyprus authorities say rising migrant arrivals are pushing the small island’s capacity to host them to its limits. Some 13,235 new asylum applications were filed last year, with most being rejected. Authorities in Cyprus say a lack of clear European Union migration policies is impeding deportations.
Nouris said 85% of the asylum-seekers entered Cyprus from the breakaway Turkish north of the ethnically divided island and crossed a porous U.N.-controlled buffer zone to file their claims.
Cyprus was split in 1974 when Turkey invaded following a coup aimed at union with Greece. Cyprus accuses Turkey of facilitating migrant flows to the east Mediterranean island nation.
The minister said the European Union agrees that Cyprus needs to take measures to stem migrant arrivals across the buffer zone. Three top EU officials including Margaritis Schinas — vice-president of the EU’s executive arm — will visit the island in the next few weeks to inspect conditions along the buffer zone.