CYPRUS, currently receiving more asylum seekers per capita among European countries, should not be left alone to deal with this situation, said Unhcr Cyprus Representative Katja Saha, calling for further EU support.
Speaking on Wednesday after a meeting in Nicosia, with the general-secretary of opposition Akel, Andros Kyprianou, Saha welcomed the measures already taken by the Cyprus government to address the reception conditions and the processing of asylum applications.
While the reception conditions had improved at the Kofinou reception centre, there were still issues that need to be tackled, she added.
She also referred to the issues concerning unaccompanied minors, adding that these children needed support after they turn 18 and leave the shelters so they don’t fall victims to traffickers.
“We are working very closely with the ministry of interior in order to make sure that the asylum system is preserved for only those who are in need of international protection and is not used for other migratory purposes,” Saha said.
According to Unhcr estimates, almost half of asylum seekers who submit applications might not have international protection needs but rather wish to stay in Cyprus for migratory reasons.
Saha also said that she encourages the government to adopt and implement accelerated procedures that would be fair and quick.
She said her organisation works with the Cyprus government so that its integration strategy addresses the needs of asylum seekers with very different backgrounds.
“The work with refugees is not only the mandate of Unhcr but it is really the responsibility of each of us” as individuals, members of organisations, of the government or of political parties,” said Saha.
She appeared confident that with the support of the EU, the situation could be managed instead of it evolving into a crisis in the coming months.
She was also asked about the refugee flows from north of the island after a surge in the number of Syrian nationals who arrived in the island through Tymbou (Ercan) airport.
Saha acknowledged that there had been an increased number of Syrian nationals who had had access to Tymbou and said that since there was no asylum system in the north, the majority of them chose to cross to the government-controlled areas.
She said that since the adoption of the “visa regime” for Syrians, these movements had now stopped. She said Unhcr had an NGO implementing partner in the north, which had registered around ten per cent of the individuals who arrived in Cyprus through there and then crossed.
“We are not aware of 90 per cent of the individuals who arrived. We do not know them and we have not come across them through our implementing partner,” she said. According to Saha, the first contact with the remaining 10 per cent is made once they seek asylum in the Republic.