More European aid will be funnelled to Cyprus to deal with increasing migrant flows, Interior Minister Nicos Nouris said on Wednesday as figures showed the numbers arriving in January this year were 48 per cent higher than the previous one.

Cyprus and Frontex, the European Border and Coast Guard Agency, are set to sign an action plan for immigration focused on returns, Nouris said after meeting its Executive Director Fabrice Leggeri in Nicosia.

“Frequent visits from European officials in the past few weeks, ending with a visit from European Commission Vice President Margaritis Schinas next weekend, show both an active interest on part of the EU, and an understanding of the problems Cyprus is facing in terms of immigration,” Nouris said.

He added that as the member state with the largest number of arrivals, particularly in the past year, Cyprus has “found itself in a position that calls for the immediate and effective support of EU agencies, with Frontex on the front lines”.

The latest report by Frontex, which compared figures from January 2021 to the same month in 2022, said that the number of migrants arriving in Cyprus “continued to grow”.

“In the first month of 2022, there were 850 detections, 48 per cent higher than last year,” the report said about Cyprus, adding that the most represented nationalities were nationals of Congo (Kinshasa), Syria and Nigeria.

As for the general situation in the Eastern Mediterranean, Frontex found the number of illegal border crossings at EU’s external borders in the first month of 2022 reached 13,160, which was 78 per cent more than in January 2021 and 23 per cent more than in 2020, according to preliminary calculations.

The number of arrivals continues to be above pre-pandemic levels as demonstrated by the data from 2021. The total number of illegal border-crossings in 2021 was just short of 200,000, the highest number since 2017.

The minister said that the plan will have two main focus areas: managing inflows through the green line, and increasing the number of returns.

“This will help the Republic of Cyprus cope with the state of emergency arising as a result of daily mass arrivals, 85 per cent of which cross over from the north after arriving to the island through Turkey,” he said.

It also provides for the implementation of regular repatriation flights with full cost recovery from Frontex and technical support for the upgrade and development of migration flow management systems.

Leggeri thanked the minister for his “excellent cooperation”, saying that the constructive discussion followed productive technical discussions between working groups, focused on maximising returns.

The agency’s role, he said, is to employ the means at its disposal to support the return and repatriation of irregular migrants to their home countries.

The goal is to reinforce the work of permanent Frontex officers stationed on the island.

At the moment, there are 2,000 Frontex border officers on the island, with plans for further increases to assist in the surveillance of the EU’s external borders.

“It is a huge challenge that requires enormous support from Frontex,” Leggeri said, adding that the organisation offers operational solidarity and support to Cyprus.

He added that returns are in the spotlight because they have been identified as an urgent need for Cyprus, which could also assist in other areas such as forged documents at border crossings.

The action plan, he concluded, “will be the roadmap for our teams to work together”.

Earlier in the day, Leggeri met Justice Minister Stephie Dracou, speaking on a number of issues including border safety and crime.

The justice ministry said that “through a fruitful exchange, [the officials] reaffirmed a common approach in terms of bolstering the protection of Cyprus’ outside borders, which are effectively EU borders, with Frontex support”.