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Nouris on migration: It’s time for decisions

File photo: The refugee camp at Kokkinotrimithia (Christos Theodorides)
Minister calls on EU partners to help finance physical barriers along buffer zone

Interior Minister Nicos Nouris on Friday urged his EU counterparts to support Cyprus’ call for the financing of physical barriers, including along the 180km-lo9ng buffer zone to address an influx of irregular migrants.

Though not an external border, the ceasefire line is the main point of entry into the areas under the effective control of the Republic, he told the European Conference on Border Management, in Lithuania.

He also asked that the EU’s border agency Frontex enter into a Status Agreement with Turkey so that it can deploy the European Border and Coast Guard Standing Corps there.

This should be done as a matter of urgency and as a condition for additional EU support to Turkey, he said.

Cyprus, the leading asylum receiving country per capita among EU member states, is struggling to cope with the surge of irregular migrants and has increasingly been lobbying the EU for help saying the situation is bordering on the unsustainable.

It has also pointed the finger at Ankara and the north of Cyprus for instrumentalising irregular migrants for political purposes

In Cyprus, the percentage of asylum applicants and the people already given international protection, number almost 50,000 people and account for 4.6 per cent of the population, Nouris said.

In 2021 alone, illegal arrivals totalled 13,235 people. More than 85 per cent of applicants for international protection arriving directly from Turkey, or through the areas which are not under the effective control of the government of the Republic of Cyprus, the minister later told a press conference.

“At the same time, we welcome Europe’s effective and coordinated response to the hybrid attack against the EU, orchestrated by the Lukashenko regime, through the instrumentalisation of migrants. Cyprus, unfortunately, faces the same threat from Turkey and requests that the EU responds with the same determination to end this unacceptable and dangerous behaviour,” he added.

Speaking at the conference earlier, Nouris said it was time for decisions. “As the flow of irregular migrants to Europe continues to increase on some routes, including my country, and the practice of instrumentalisation of migration for political purposes is spreading alarmingly among our neighbours, it is clear that the effective protection of our external borders is an imperative for Europe’s stability and security,” he said.

“The front-line Member States, acting as guardians of Europe’s external borders, should take immediate and decisive action to prevent the influx of irregular migrants and the penetration of potentially criminal elements into Europe. In this regard, border management is essential to prevent primary flows,” he said as he reiterated Nicosia’s call for the financing of physical barriers at the external borders, as one of the most effective measures to prevent influx.

Given the humanitarian and legal challenges to preventing arrivals from the sea, the EU must focus on preventing departures from third countries of origin and transit, at the source, he noted.

This entails cooperation with third countries in order to strengthen their ability to effectively manage their borders and prevent departures, as well as investments in order to envisage economic opportunities in the respective third countries.

Efforts are also needed to dismantle smuggling networks, with an enhanced role for Europol, Frontex and Eurojust.

The EU should also make full use of all available tools to promote the effective implementation of return and readmission agreements.

Moreover, its response to the recent events orchestrated by Belarus has shown that decisive and comprehensive action, which includes diplomatic outreach and the use of appropriate leverages and legal tools, can yield remarkable results in the short term, Nouris noted.

“In light of the above, we expect that all attempts for the instrumentalization of migratory flows from third countries against EU member states will be addressed in a united and coherent manner across the EU,” he concluded.

There was support for Nicosia’s positions in a joint statement issued after the conference by 16 ministers, in the presence of representatives of the European Commission, the European Parliament, European Border and Coast Guard Agency (Frontex), Europol, the European Union Agency for Asylum (EUAA) and the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights (FRA).

The 10-point statement highlighted the importance of protecting external borders and called for a united European approach and voice and effective border protection measures and horizontal sanctions to combat instrumentalization of migration.

Ministers also called for comprehensive package of measures to establish effective control based on integrated border management along the entire external border, including by establishing physical barriers and other mobile or stationary infrastructure, where Member States deem it appropriate and necessary while respecting the international law.

“These measures should also apply at the Green Line in the case of Cyprus, although it does not constitute a border. Adequate EU financial support should contribute to implementation of these measures in order to ensure a high level of security at the EU external borders,” they said.

Border management should be given particular attention, with an emphasis on prevention of illegal border crossings and combating activities of smugglers and human traffickers.  responses to illegal border crossings.

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