INTERIOR minister Constantinos Petrides for months now has been trying to draw attention to the large number of migrants and asylum seekers ending up in Cyprus, but our EU partners are not interested. Some member-states of central and northern Europe that are not affected by the migration crisis are not content with the current situation, but countries like Poland, Hungary, the Czech Republic are refusing to accept any asylum seekers.
This is a mockery of the much-touted idea of European solidarity which is automatically forgotten when there is talk of redistributing asylum seekers. The result is that front-line states like Greece and Italy, and to an extent Cyprus, have been left to shoulder the burden of the crisis. The majority of the EU states are happy with the arrangement reached with Turkey which was allocated 3 billion euro to keep Syrian refugees on its territory and thus stop them moving to EU countries.
This has not stemmed the flow of refugees to Cyprus. In 2018, Petrides said, more than a thousand people arrived in Cyprus from Turkey via the north of the island. This may seem a small number compared to the number of refugees in Greece, but in a country with a population of 800,000 it is not. In the same year, there was a total of 7,000 applications for asylum which was a significant number as a proportion of the population. This is why Petrides justifiably has been calling for “fair burden sharing”.
So far, the only concession to front-line states was the vague suggestion of setting up ‘control centres’ which would carry out the processing of people that end up in EU states after their rescue at sea. These centres would have the responsibility of establishing whether a person was in need of international protection or a migrant looking to settle in the EU. The danger of hosting such centres is they end up being permanent and the host country would have to deal with the asylum seekers that no other member-state would accept.
Petrides knows that this is no solution and quite rightly has proposed the establishment of an automatic mechanism for redistributing asylum seekers that would share the burden among all member states. Unfortunately, this does not look a realistic option at present, especially as the situation in Cyprus is perceived as manageable by Brussels and it sees no need to take decisions now that would spark strong disagreement among members. Whether we like it or not, there are member-states that refuse to take any share of the burden and there does not seem to be much Cyprus can do about it.