Municipalities, NGOs and lawyers aiding illegal immigration came into the firing line of Christodoulos Tselepos, president of the refugee review authority, on Wednesday as he praised the interior ministry’s efforts to address the issue.
“Some lawyers have even boasted of earning 600,000 euros … but they are taking advantage of people’s pain and suffering,” Tselepos told CyBC on Wednesday.
His comments focused mainly on sham marriages and colleges which have become an industry for illegal immigration and are the focus of tough new measures proposed by Interior Minister Nicos Nouris last week.
“When we leave doors and windows open in the legal framework we should not be surprised when people take advantage of it,” he said.
“It appears that the new interior minister has fully understood the major problem, not just with the marriages but of the issue of refugees,” Tselepos said.
He praised one of Nouris’ main proposals which would address the issue of colleges and international students claiming asylum.
“The majority, especially at colleges, come to Cyprus and within six months they stop attending with the excuse that they do not have enough money to pay for tuition.”
At this point he said they become illegal migrants.
“But as soon as they are found [by police] they file an asylum claim… conveniently they have a lawyer’s card already in their pocket.”
He mentioned that the scale of the problem was known back in 2015, but “our big issue in Cyprus is the indecision of some people in high places”.
Last week, Nouris said that between 2008-2013 the number of asylum seekers was around 13,000, but the migration crisis had seen numbers skyrocket.
Nouris said that after 2014 the numbers reached 34,000 putting Cyprus on top of the list of EU countries in terms of numbers of asylum seekers.
Tselepos said that many people are taking advantage of the situation in Cyprus, “because we are not as organised as we should be”.
Tselepos that some lawyers have been arrested but only face fines. He detailed a case where one lawyer boasted of earning 600,000 euros.
He added that while Cyprus complains to the EU the authorities could be making better efforts.
He added, however, that serious efforts are now underway for better organisation and investigation.
He also said municipalities bear much of the responsibility and those found to be participating should be punished.
“In some cases out of 100 weddings [in a municipality] perhaps 90 are shams.”