AS IF Cyprus did not have enough issues with Turkey, it’s slowly emerging that Ankara appears to be facilitating people-smugglers by allowing asylum-seekers to fly to the north from where they are guided to the crossings to the south of the island by Turkish Cypriot authorities.
Interior Minister Constantinos Petrides seems to have been banging his head against a brick wall for the past two years when it comes to pushing Europe into sharing the burden of asylum numbers but nothing has changed except the growing influx. Numbers released on Monday from the European Asylum Support Office (Easo) revealed that asylum claims in Cyprus rose 69 per cent between 2017 and 2018, making it number one on the list of top receiving countries per capita.
By contrast, applications to the EU overall dropped 10 per cent, returning numbers to 2014 pre-crisis levels. The organisation did concede that numbers varied wildly from one member state to another. In Cyprus in 2018, some 7,765 people applied for asylum compared with 4,600 in 2017, a 69 per cent increase.
Petrides said last week that already this year, around 3,000 people seeking asylum had crossed from the north compared with 2,635 for the whole of 2018 and only 138 who crossed in 2017. He said the situation was becoming impossible to manage.
To put some perspective on the scale of the problem, Cyprus had to handle on average 20 new cases a day in 2018, plus existing cases, plus appeals. All this comes down to a matter of resources, which according to Petrides, we do not have. In 2016 the EU allocated €3bn in aid to Turkey to help Syrian refugees. Is Turkey’s answer to now offload those refugees on Cyprus?
The fact the island is coming up short on resources, according to the minister, also means the refugees who are fleeing poverty rather than war or persecution, and who end up here, often find themselves worse off than before.
It’s well known that many refugees do not know Cyprus is an island that they cannot leave until their asylum applications are processed, which can take years. Smugglers either tell them they’re being taken to Italy or Greece, or fail to mention that Cyprus is not part of the European mainland.
If Turkey is indeed following a ‘new policy’ by sending refugees to Cyprus under false pretences, then Petrides is correct when he said this should not be tolerated on a European level. They are not just hurting Cyprus but also the refugees themselves. The minister says the policy of not accepting asylum claimants at the crossings who have come through what is essentially ‘an illegal port of entry’ in government-speak, could be a way around stopping the increasing flow, but Cyprus might also find this challenged at a European level because of the complexity of the asylum rules overall.