Over 16,500 Ukrainian refugees have arrived in Cyprus since Russia’s invasion on February 24, of whom roughly 10,000 have already sought temporary protected status, the interior ministry said on Friday.

Interior Ministry spokesman Loizos Michael told Alpha that most of those who have arrived so far have done so under the government’s streamlined procedures and protocols to facilitate their access to Cyprus, such as the EU’s emergency ‘temporary protection directive’ for fleeing Ukrainians. Applicable from March 4, it ensures that the refugees have a clear legal status.

Michael explained that the status provided to them allows for protection for up to one year – at the moment, hinting that it could be extended.

Asked about how and if the government can keep tabs on all those arriving, Michael clarified that all those who have fled are documented with the state – regardless of whether they have sought the temporary protected status or not.

He also explained where and with whom most of the refugees are being housed: “A significant number of these people are now staying with relatives, bearing in mind that there was already a Ukrainian community in Cyprus of about 5,000 people, so many are being hosted by them.”

Elsewhere, he said, the deputy tourism ministry has secured 3,000 beds at Famagusta hotels where temporary care can be provided until they are able to find rental accommodation themselves.

Asked about the children who are among those who have fled Ukraine – although a specific figure was not provided – Michael reminded that they are able to attend state provided education courses, in light of Cypriot law mandating that all children attend school and the latest EU directive.

He said that due to issues of a language barrier, the education ministry is seeking teachers who speak Ukrainian and is looking at ways to facilitate distance learning.

In announcing that temporary protection directive in March, Vice-President for Promoting our European Way of Life, Margaritis Schinas said at the time that: “To help make this process as smooth as possible, the commission is supporting member states with operational guidance. For example, to ensure people can move around the union unhindered, we clarify that they should be able to receive 15-day visas at the border and that in any case carriers should not be fined for transporting them without documentation.”