NICOSIA — Cyprus is seeking help from the United Nations to stem an “avalanche” of migrants who make their way from the ethnically divided island’s breakaway north across a U.N.-controlled buffer zone to seek asylum in numbers that authorities cannot cope with, the interior minister said Monday.
Minister Nikos Nouris said 94% of the 15,130 asylum-seekers who filed applications with the divided island’s internationally recognized government in the south through August this year had traversed the buffer zone. That is double the number from the same period last year.
Nouris will travel to New York this week for meetings with the U.N. Secretary-General’s Cabinet Chief Courtenay Rattray and U.N. Under Secretary-General for Peace Operations Jean-Pierre Lacroix to brief them in detail about the situation.
Nouris said the U.N. has no mandate under its 58-year peacekeeping mission in Cyprus to carry out operations aimed at halting the flow of migrants across the buffer zone. But the peacekeeping force has sole jurisdiction of the entire 180 kilometer (210-mile) no-man’s land.
“I want to discuss with them how they perceive the issue of crossings that we’re experiencing,” Nouris told the Associated Press.
The buffer zone was formed in the wake of a 1974 Turkish invasion that was triggered by a coup aimed at union with Greece. Only Turkey recognizes a declaration of independence by Turkish Cypriots in Cyprus’ northern third, where most migrants arrive to the island.
Nouris said three Greek Cypriot villages are completely ensconced within that U.N. buffer zone, which he called “blind spots” where Cypriot authorities have no access and cannot control migrant crossings.
Elsewhere along the buffer zone, Cyprus government authorities are putting up barriers including barbed wire fences and high-tech surveillance systems and have formed a 300-strong patrol unit that will seek to obstruct crossings.
Cyprus joined the European Union in 2004, but the buffer zone is not considered an EU external border. Nouris said the 27-nation bloc has formally acknowledged the buffer zone as a irregular migration gateway and empowered Cypriot authorities to stop crossings using all means employed at external borders.
Nouris repeated that Cyprus has the highest per capita number of asylum-seekers in the EU and accused Turkey of channeling migrants to the island. He also said, for the first time ever, 780 Afghans arrived in Cyprus last year.