Cyprus has been receiving the biggest flow of migrants in proportion to its population, which is threatening to change its demographics, a presidential aide said on Friday, ahead of a meeting in Athens to discuss migration policy.

“Cyprus is a country that receives the largest flows in proportion to its population and risks a change of its demographics since irregular migrants and asylum seekers have reached 4 per cent of our population, while in Europe it does not exceed 1 per cent,” said Victoras Papadopoulos, the president’s press officer.

Interior Minister Nicos Nouris will be taking part in a meeting in Athens on Saturday along with ministers from four other Mediterranean frontline countries in the EU, Greece, Italy, Malta, and Spain, to agree on a common policy towards the EU’s new pact on migration and asylum.

Papadopoulos reiterated that Cyprus’ capacity to host migrants has been exhausted and tackling the problem was a key priority.

“Unfortunately, not even Frontex can help Cyprus because Turkey does not let it access areas neighbouring Cyprus, while in other areas, like the Aegean, Frontex plays a key role,” Papadopoulos said.

He said the administration aims to rein in flows and the sources, that is, people who arrive as students and then seek asylum, sham marriages with EU citizens, and irregular migration through the buffer zone.

The government has been criticised over certain controversial decisions it made in relation with the matter but also over its rhetoric, which observers say foment racism and xenophobia in violation of the Geneva Convention on Refugees.

According to UNHCR, Cyprus has afforded protection to 13,490 migrants while 19,153 applications were pending at the end of November 2020.

The number of third-country nationals residing on the island without a permit was not immediately known.

According to Eurostat, in 2019-2020, Cyprus was home to 118,801 EU nationals, including Britons, whose country has left the block. The number of non-EU residents was 42,204, Eurostat said.

Critics also blame the large number of asylum seekers on the slow procedures, which sometimes take years. It has also failed to put effective integration policies in place, which is also an obligation under EU and international conventions.

Cyprus was also meant to put a comprehensive integration plan in place for third-country nationals by the end of last year, but it has not yet materialised.