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Society

Refugees Fleeing Mideast Avoid Cyprus

For hundreds of thousands of illegal immigrants and refugees escaping the wars of the Middle East, the nearby island of Cyprus isn’t a lure.

Already this year, more than 160,000 have landed in Greece, mostly on the islands, but the country is for most a way to get to more prosperous European Union destinations in the north, such as Germany and the United Kingdom.

Many risk their lives – and die trying – paying thousands of euros to traffickers and smugglers to get them into Greece, often on rickety, overloaded boats or tiny rubber dinghies headed for the islands closest from Turkey, such as Leros.

Syria’s main port, Latakia, is around 110 miles from Ayia Napa on Cyprus but the refugees still prefer to travel overland through Turkey followed by a short ride to Kos, four times the distance the Cyprus Mail noted in a feature on their journeys.

Kos has been overwhelmed with Syrian refugees. Not one is coming to Cyprus, by far the closest EU country, the paper said. The only time Cyprus played host to the biggest wave of European migration since World War II was almost a year ago.

Last September, 339 Syrian refugees had to be rescued when they were abandoned off the coast of Cyprus in the boat that was supposed to smuggle them into Italy, a trip that cost them $800 each but even so many said they wanted to go to Italy instead, another prime destination.

They had no interest in remaining in Cyprus, nor did they wish for their asylum applications even to be processed here. Of the 339 rescued, only 23 now remain in Cyprus, unhappy and unwilling, taken in by the New Life International Church until they too get a chance to flee.

Why do the refugees shun Cyprus, which is also in the EU? It’s mostly economics, the Cyprus’ United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees representative Emilia Strovolidou told the Mail.

“Recent refugee trends reveal a persistent flow towards northern Europe, from countries like Greece and Italy,” Strovolidou said. Indeed, Germany said it will try to process 800,000 asylum applications this year even though EU rules say immigrants can only try in the country where they land – unless they get out before being caught.

“The prospects of integration for migrants are far better in the northern countries,” Strovolidou added.

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