THE GOVERNMENT’S growing concern about the increasing influx of migrants is perfectly understandable, especially as its options for dealing with the problem are limited. This was evident from the comments made by interior minister Constantinos Petrides on Wednesday after the meeting of the ministerial committee on migration, which included the ministers of foreign affairs, justice and labour.
The committee agreed on certain measures but all it can hope is that these will contain the problem rather than eliminate it. In the first eight months of 2018 there was a 55 per cent increase in asylum applications, compared to the corresponding period of the previous year; in numbers these had risen from 2,600 to 4,022. The increase for 2017 was 56 per cent.
Among the measures decided by the ministerial committee were the speeding up of the examination of asylum applications that are submitted by people abusing the system; he was referring to people that arrive legally as workers or students and apply for asylum when their residence permit expires. Next year a special court will be set up to examine appeals against rejected asylum applications. Until now, appeals were used as a way for applicants to buy time given the long delays of the justice system.
While these measures may have an impact, they are not designed to deal with the influx of Syrian refugees, who are fleeing a war-zone and cannot be turned away. According to Petrides there are currently 15,000 Syrians that have either been given asylum or have applied for it. Many of them arrive from the north – 1,520 this year, so far – and cannot be turned back. Better surveillance of the buffer zone was a measure also discussed on Wednesday.
The total number of asylum applications may seem small for big European countries, but as a proportion of the population Cyprus tops the EU list, according to Eurostat, with over 5,000 per million population. Petrides was obviously unhappy with the absence of an EU policy framework that would include an automatic mandatory redistribution mechanism of refugees across the entire EU territory. This will not happen given the obdurate refusal of central European states such as Poland, Hungary, Austria, Slovakia to take any refugees.
And to make matters worse, the European Commission is considering setting up centres for migrants in EU member-states and Cyprus was mentioned as one of the possible countries to host such a centre. The government, with ample justification, will reject such a proposal, which seems designed to penalise the frontline EU countries that are facing the brunt of the migration problem, while other member-state refuse to have anything to do with it.