By Stefanos Evripidou
THE European Asylum Support Office (EASO) has signed an agreement with Cyprus to provide wide-ranging support to the country following a significant increase in asylum applications in the first four months of this year.
EASO executive director Robert Visser and Interior Minister Socrates Hasikos signed in Luxembourg the Special Support Plan providing for technical and operational support and deployment of support teams to Cyprus up to the end of June 2015.
The plan aims to help Cyprus cope with the pressure on its asylum and reception system and strengthen its capacity in managing and preparing implementation of the Common European Asylum System (CEAS).
Malta-based EASO will provide operational support in a number of prioritised areas, including training of staff, support for vulnerable groups, advice on age assessment procedures, enhancing reception conditions, data collection and analytical capacity (i.e. statistics and information technology).
“Cyprus is facing pressure on its asylum system, mainly due to their geographical proximity to an area that produces a particularly high percentage of asylum applicants,” EASO said in a statement.
In 2013, Cyprus recorded 1,246 applicants for international protection at first instance, of whom 45 per cent claimed to be Syrian nationals.
From January to April this year, Cyprus recorded 535 applications, a significant increase of 37 per cent compared to the same period in 2013.
The rise of Syrian applicants during the first four months was even more pronounced, reaching 115 per cent compared to the same period last year.
EASO said the Cypriot authorities requested support to improve and enhance its asylum and reception system on May 26, noting that Cyprus is currently preparing a substantial expansion of its capacity in the field of reception and open accommodation.
“I am glad that we have agreed, in a very short time, on a support plan to Cyprus,” Visser said after signing the agreement.
He said the EASO adopted a flexible approach in providing tailor-made support to improve the asylum and reception system in Cyprus (in the short-term) and ensuring the necessary conditions are in place for dealing with long-term pressure on the Cypriot asylum system, in line with CEAS.
“We will immediately start work to ensure the effective implementation of the plan. In just over three years since EASO became fully operational, this is the sixth member state to which we will be providing operational support,” he said.
Cyprus had been a contender to host the EASO when its establishment was being mooted among EU member states. Then Interior Minister Neoclis Sylikiotis campaigned to locate the new unit in the country, arguing that Cyprus was already on the frontline of migratory flows into Europe.
His arguments were not convincing as Cyprus eventually lost out Malta.