By George Psyllides
CYPRUS said on Monday it would be willing to take in up to 300 migrants fleeing upheaval in the Middle East under new EU quotas, but would prefer them to be Christians.
Interior Minister Socratis Hasikos said the island’s size meant that its reception capacity was limited.
An EU source said on Monday that the EU executive had drawn up a new set of national quotas under which member states will take in a total of 160,000 asylum-seekers to be relocated from Italy, Greece and Hungary.
Hasikos, responsible for migration policy, told state radio: “We have already stated that 260, a maximum of 300, people can be taken in … everyone (EU member states) should pitch in.
“We would seek for them to be Orthodox Christians … it’s not an issue of being inhuman or not helping if we are called upon, but to be honest, yes, that’s what we would prefer.”
He said it would be much easier for Christians to adjust to life in Cyprus.
His morning comments caused an outcry on social media, forcing the minister to issue a clarifying statement later in the day.
Hasikos said Cyprus has proven in practice, not only its readiness, but also its effective humanitarianism without religious or ethnic discrimination.
He added that as part of EU discussions on refugee quotas, “specific parameters have been set” regarding the selection criteria.
Within this framework, at least five other EU member states have publicly said that they would prefer to take in Christian refugees for practical reasons, as it is easier for them to integrate into host societies.
Hasikos said this was what he meant “and I think any other interpretation and or misunderstanding of my comments would be unfair and taken in bad faith.”
Despite its proximity to Syria, refugees tend to shun the island because of its isolation relative to the rest of the EU, and the difficulties of getting out.
It lies almost 500 km east of the next EU member state, Greece, primary gateway for migrants entering the bloc via Turkey.
Slovakia and the Czech Republic have also said they would prefer Christians under any EU resettlement scheme for migrants fleeing the Middle East.