With European Union countries split over whether to take in surging numbers of illegal immigrants and refugees, Cyprus said it could take up to 300 but prefers that they be Christians.
Cyprus is the closest EU country to war-torn Syria, from where most of the refugees are fleeing, but have avoided the island, preferring to get to Turkey and try to get across the Aegean on rickety, overcrowded boats and rubber dinghies to reach Greek islands and then use Greece to get to other EU countries such as Germany.
With a population of one million on a small island, Interior Minister Socratis Hasikos said its size meant that its reception capacity was limited. An EU source told Reuters that the a new set of national quotas has been drawn up under which member states will take in a total of 160,000 asylum-seekers to be relocated from Italy, Greece and Hungary.
Hasikos, responsible for migration policy, told state radio: “We have already stated that 260, a maximum of 300, people can be taken in … everyone (EU member states) should pitch in.
“We would seek for them to be Orthodox Christians … it’s not an issue of being inhuman or not helping if we are called upon, but to be honest, yes, that’s what we would prefer.” He said it would be much easier for Christians to adjust to life in Cyprus although the refugees are coming from predominantly Muslim countries.
Cyprus, split since an unlawful Turkish invasion in 1974 has a split religious base too, with Greek Orthodox on one side and and Sunni Muslim Turkish Cypriots in the north.
Slovakia and the Czech Republic have also said they would prefer Christians under any EU resettlement scheme for migrants fleeing the Middle East.