NICOSIA — Cyprus said Wednesday it will seek European Union approval to stop processing asylum claims from migrants illegally entering the east Mediterranean island nation.
Government spokesman Marios Pelekanos said a surge of new migrant arrivals is fueling serious crime, taxing state coffers and altering the country’s demographics.
Pelekanos said authorities would also press the EU to relocate a number of asylum seekers living in Cyprus to other bloc member countries and strike agreements with third countries to take back their citizens who have had their asylum applications rejected.
“The government is taking additional action as part of a comprehensive migration policy that respects human rights, but also protects the rights and interests of the country’s citizens,” Pelekanos told reporters.
He said the ministries of defense, the interior and justice will draft recommendations on how to deal with the new inflows, while the EU’s executive arm will be asked for assistance in line with decisions made to counter the migrant crisis on the borders of Lithuania and Poland.
Pelekanos said that in just the first 10 months of this year, migrant arrivals were up 38% compared to all of 2020. Of the 10,868 new arrivals, 9,270 illegally crossed a United Nations-controlled buffer zone from the breakaway Turkish Cypriot north to seek asylum in the internationally recognized south.
The spokesman said asylum seekers comprise 4% of the population in the island’s south — four times the average of other EU front-line states — and 16% of all primary school students are children of migrants.
Pelekanos also said that migrants account for more than 43% of people implicated in serious crimes.
According to Pelekanos, the government paid 178 million euros ($205 million) between 2014-2020 for migrant allowances and accommodation while 38 million euros were added to this year’s budget to cover food and housing.
Cyprus Refugee Council head Corina Droushiotou said that, although the country is facing a problem, it’s unlikely that the EU would permit authorities not to process new asylum claims or that relocation procedures would be enacted soon.
She said it’s important that migrants continue to be allowed to apply for asylum.