Authorities on Saturday voiced deep concern over the wave of migrants and refugees from Syria apparently headed for Cyprus – some of whom could also pose a security threat — as the inflow is rapidly increasing with several groups arriving in the space of a few days.
Over 90 people arrived in the Republic in the past 10 days or so, intercepted in Paphos, Nicosia, and Famagusta, deepening the authorities’ concerns that the island has become a destination for people fleeing the war in neighbouring Syria.
Most of the 15,000 people who have been granted or are seeking asylum in Cyprus are Syrian with a 40 per cent increase in applications in the first five months of this year alone.
Interior Minister Constantinos Petrides said on Saturday the government was very concerned and a meeting has been called for next week to take stock of the situation.
“Indeed, there is a worrying upward trend of irregular migrant inflows to Cyprus, either from the sea or through the occupied areas,” the minister said.
“As an EU member-state, Cyprus respects its obligations but it has also reached its limits as regards the number it can absorb.”
Petrides had previously told the Sunday Mail that Cyprus insists on the creation of an automatic mechanism for redistributing asylum seekers, a position expressed during the European Council on migration.
“We have serious reservations regarding the operation of large centres in Europe, especially in the absence of this mechanism,” he said. “There must be a holistic approach and not one that deals with the issues in piecemeal fashion.”
The situation will be discussed in a board meeting between the ministries of interior, labour, justice, and foreign affairs.
Beyond the apparent problem, authorities are also worried about the security risks the influx may create.
Responding to criticism over the apparent ease with which groups of migrants and refugees cross the buffer zone into the Republic, a security source said it was near impossible to effectively monitor the 180-kilometre line that divides the island.
In any case, they pointed out, it didn’t matter how they arrived; anyone who claims asylum cannot be turned back.
However, whereas previous arrivals mostly concerned families, in recent days the authorities have seen young men between the ages of 16 and 30.
Instructions to the police are to conduct thorough background checks as it is feared individuals linked with militant groups could be among the ranks of those arriving.
Security authorities suspect the youths may be former fighters fleeing Idlib, the last rebel-held stronghold in Syria, fearing an all-out attack by Syrian forces to capture the strategic northwest province bordering Turkey.
What they are certain of is the existence of a well organised ring that brings the migrants to Cyprus, possibly with Turkey’s blessing.
In the past 10 days, 92 irregular migrants have arrived in the Republic, either on boat or through the buffer zone from the north.
The statistics show that while all migrants arrived by sea until February 2017, from then on there has been a steady influx of arrivals through the north of the island.
Ten were intercepted in Akamas on Saturday, 24 in Cavo Greco and five in Larnaca on Friday, 10 in Peristerona and six on Paphos on Thursday, 23 the previous day in Akaki, and 14 the week before again in Akaki.
Official statistics now show a 56 per cent rise in asylum applications in 2017 and around 40 per cent in the first five months of this year.
Between 2002 and 2017, the island afforded international protection – asylum and subsidiary protection – to some 10,000 foreign nationals. There are 3,000 pending applications since last year plus a further 2,435 in 2018.
The majority of international protection applications in Cyprus in recent years concerned Syrian nationals.
Interviews conducted with newly arrived migrants in June found that Cyprus is considered and promoted by traffickers as an ideal destination in relation with Europe and Turkey.