UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres recommends renewal of Unficyp’s mandate for another six months, as he censured the government over its treatment of asylum seekers, emphasising the importance of full adherence to international norms in their handling, wherever they may be found, and expressing serious concern.

In his report to the Security Council on the organisation’s operation in Cyprus, the UNSG recommended the extension of Unficyp’s mandate until July 31, 2022 in light of its continued contribution to peace and stability and the creation of conditions conducive to a political settlement.

Despite their political differences, Guterres urged the two sides to discuss the issue of irregular migration, which the Republic has been highlighting as a serious problem.

The “situation of asylum seekers and refugees across the island, as well as the issue of access to asylum procedures in accordance with international law, continued to be a challenge during the reporting period (June to December) and is of serious concern to the United Nations,” the UNSG said.

“While appreciating the challenging regional context as well as the high volume of arrivals in Cyprus in relation to the size of the population, I must recall the critical importance of full adherence to international legal norms in the handling of asylum seekers and refugees, wherever they may be found,” the report said.

Citing data supplied by the Republic, the UNSG said about 80 per cent of irregular migrants arrived through the buffer zone, a phenomenon likely driven by “pushbacks at sea and at official crossing points by the Republic of Cyprus.”

The report said pushbacks at sea increased during the reporting period, resulting in eight confirmed cases of collective refoulement and one person missing.

It also described the situation of the three asylum seekers from Cameroon who had been stuck in the buffer zone since May because they were refused access to asylum procedures “during repeated attempts to present themselves to the police at the Ledra Palace checkpoint.”

One managed to cross to the south but the other two, including a woman, remained stranded in the buffer zone.

“Despite emergency admission to the hospital of the Cameroonian female asylum seeker on October 9, 2021, access to asylum procedures was again denied and the individual was pushed back to the buffer zone upon being discharged from the hospital facilities.”

The two asylum seekers were eventually rescued by the Pope who took them to the Vatican along with 48 other migrants from Cyprus.