Ten families of Syrian refugees, from Lebanon and Jordan, are expected to be resettled in Cyprus within 2018, according to an agreement between the Republic of Cyprus and the International Organisation for Migration (IOM).
Natasa Xenophontos-Koudouna, the head of the IOM office in Cyprus, says the decision marks the beginning of fulfilling Nicosia’s commitments.
In an interview with Cyprus News Agency, Koudouna welcomed the government’s political decision to proceed with the resettlement of refugees, in line with commitments undertaken by EU member states, adding that the decision also enhances bilateral ties between Cyprus and neighboring countries.
She referred to the need to adopt a comprehensive approach in search of viable solutions for refugees and migrants.
“The UN International Organisation for Migration is at the stage of concluding an agreement with the Republic of Cyprus to facilitate the resettlement of 69 people from Lebanon and Jordan within 2018” Koudouna said.
“We are talking about 10 families more or less and the goal is to bring them to Cyprus and help them integrate in the society”.
Resettlement is one of the available tools to tackle the migrant crisis, on the basis of EU decisions and the 2016 agreement reached with Turkey.
Koudouna said that 143 refugees from Greece and Italy were already relocated to Cyprus in a display of solidarity towards EU member states facing increased migration flows.
Asked if this resettlement marks the end for Cyprus’ commitments, the head of the IOM replies that this decision “is only the beginning”. “I expect this effort to continue” she says, noting that Cypriots are positively predisposed “since we know … what it means to be a refugee.”
‘The death toll in Karpasia concerns us all’
The head of the UN’s migration agency in Cyprus also referred to the recent discovery of bodies washed up on the shores of Karpasia, of migrants who died in their effort to reach the island.
“This incident shows the need for legal migration pathways in order to avoid the repetition of phenomena that put human lives in danger,” she says.
The arrivals of refugees and migrants in the north is an issue of concern for the whole of Cyprus, she said, as “sooner or later, it is possible that they will end up in the free areas of the Republic through the Green Line”.
“We can’t turn a blind eye because these people happened to die in Karpasia” she points out, adding that their relatives who are refugees living in the government controlled areas are looking for them. These people turned to the United Nations, asking for permission to cross to the occupied areas to identify the bodies, she said.
“My colleagues in the government will agree with me – and we support them in this endeavor – that they need to look more carefully into the incident concerning the dead in Karpasia, because this issue concerns us all” Koudouna said.
Until the beginning of May there were 47 arrivals by sea compared to 273 arrivals last year in the areas under the control of the Republic of Cyprus. Although there appears to be a drop in the numbers, Koudouna points to the arrivals of migrants from Turkey to the occupied areas of Cyprus, which are later directed to the free areas of the Republic.
“This phenomenon appears to be on the rise” with migrants arriving through the buffer zone, she said.
According to IOM data for the first five months of 2018, a total of 27,020 migrants and refugees arrived in Europe by sea, 39 per cent of which arrived in Italy, 37 per cent in Greece and 23 per cent in Spain. A reduction in arrivals on all routes has been recorded, compared to the same period in 2017.
Last year, 12,356 Syrian refugees were resettled from Turkey to various countries, 81 per cent of which went to Europe. Turkey hosts today 3.9 million refugees.
Ziyi to host the new center for unaccompanied minors
Following a Cabinet decision, the IOM was chosen to be in charge of reception infrastructure for vulnerable migrant population groups, such as families with children or unaccompanied minor migrants.
In particular, there are plans to operate a center for unaccompanied minors in 2019, in Ziyi, on the south coast of Cyprus, however the relevant agreement has not been signed yet.
“We are in talks with the government and in particular with the Ministry of Labor and Social Insurance to support their work, both in organising and in managing the Centre” for unaccompanied minor migrants, Koudouna said.
She stressed however that reception centers are just a transitional stage. “What will happen to unaccompanied minors when they turn 19? Do we forget them afterwards?” she wonders and highlights the need for broader planning and polices aiming at integration.
According to the latest data by Eurostat, there was a small increase in unaccompanied minors applying for asylum in Cyprus, from 215 in 2016 to 225 in 2017. The number of unaccompanied minors applying for asylum in EU member states last year reached 31,400, comprising 15 per cent of all asylum seeks under 18 years old.