NICOSIA — Ethnically divided Cyprus ranks first among European Union member nations in the number of migrants it repatriates relative to its population of just over a million people, the country’s interior minister said Thursday.
Nearly 7,000 migrants were sent back to their home countries from Cyprus so far this year, accounting for 70% of the people who entered the country illegally, Interior Minister Nicos Nouris said. Last year, Cyprus repatriated 17% of the migrants who arrived without authorization, he said.
Applications for asylum in the Mediterranean island nation rose to 18,345 between January and October of this year, Nouris said, adding that the number of people with pending asylum claims or already granted a more limited protection status together is equal to more than 6% of Cyprus’ population.
Cyprus split along ethnic lines in 1974 following a Turkish invasion triggered by a coup aiming at union with Greece. Nouris said some 95% of all asylum-seekers enter from the breakaway Turkish Cypriot north and cross a United Nations-controlled buffer zone to apply in the south, where the island nation’s internationally recognized government is seated.
The government is erecting a fence and installing high-tech surveillance equipment along stretches of the 180 kilometer (112 mile) long buffer zone.
The minister told a meeting in Nicosia of the European Commission’s High-Level Network on Returns that Cypriot authorities overcame “bureaucratic procedures” and signed agreements with countries including India, Bangladesh, Pakistan and Vietnam that have enabled so many repatriations.
Migrant returns are facilitated through a newly established office that coordinates between different state ministries and agencies including the Asylum Service, police and the European border agency Frontex.
Nouris said he’s hopeful the EU network will help discourage both migrants and people smugglers from trying to enter the country illegally. He said the EU should centrally manage returning those without permission to remain in the bloc’s member nations.