ATHIENOU, Cyprus (AP) — Turkey “has much to gain” if it works with the European Union to stem migrant arrivals from its airports and shores to the ethnically divided Mediterranean island of Cyprus, a top EU official said Sunday.
European Commission Vice President Margaritis Schinas said he’s hopeful Turkish authorities will show the same degree of cooperation on curbing migrant arrivals to Cyprus as they did on helping the EU deal with a Belarussian “hybrid attack” of pushing migrants across its border into Poland.
“Look, Turkey, as all other of our neighbors, must understand a very simple thing: that on the migration issue, they have much to gain if they work with Europe instead of working against Europe,” Schinas said.
Schinas will travel to Turkey next month for talks to assess ways in which migrants reach Cyprus’ breakaway north, either through flights from Istanbul or by boat from the country’s southern coast. Some 85% of migrants who reach the north slip across a United Nations-controlled buffer zone that severs the island along ethnic lines.
The EU official spoke after touring several frequently-used migrant crossing routes along the buffer zone. The island’s division came in 1974 when Turkey invaded in the wake of a coup aiming at union with Greece.
Cypriot officials have accused Turkey of deliberately channeling migrants to the island’s north. The buffer zone isn’t recognized as an EU external border and authorities have refrained from building any walls. But officials say they will employ “high-tech measures” to curb buffer zone crossings.
“What I see here today along the Green Line is shocking, it’s a completely different perception of the problem than seeing it from a distance,” said Schinas, adding that Cyprus with its limited resources has to shoulder an “extremely large, disproportionate” burden.
Interior Minister Nicos Nouris said Cyprus has in recent years received more migrants per capita than any other EU country.
Schinas said the EU is working with Cypriot authorities to thwart migrant crossings. He also said Cyprus should receive significant financial assistance to cope with migrant arrivals and ramp up repatriations of those whose asylum cases have been rejected.
“As far as migration goes, we in Europe have to stop working as firefighters rushing from crisis to crisis and work as architects of a new, overall, cohesive European framework on handling the migration and asylum issues,” Schinas said.
Nouris said Cyprus will ask the EU border agency Frontex to monitor the waters between Turkey and Cyprus and send a representative to Istanbul airport and to the island’s breakaway north to check for migrants.
By MENELAOS HADJICOSTIS Associated Press