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Schinas says Turkey and TCs must assume their responsibilities for migration flows to Cyprus

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Interior Minister Nicos Nouris at a previous visit to Pournara

The EU will find a way to make the Turkish leadership responsible for restricting the migrant flow into the north of the island and from there to the Republic, European Commission Vice President Margaritis Schinas said on Saturday.

The Turkish Cypriot leadership would not be left off the hook either, he said.

He was speaking during a visit to the Pournara reception centre for asylum seekers outside Nicosia with Interior Minister Nicos Nouris with whom he had met privately beforehand at the ministry.

Schinas said earlier in the day in a tweet that Cyprus bears a disproportionately large burden on immigration but “is not alone”.

“The EU supports with resources, staff, means”,  the tweet said, adding “significant improvement in structures and progress on returns. The EU-Cyprus Joint Action Plan pays off”.

During the visit to the reception facility, Schinas met with representatives of EU agencies posted in Cyprus to help with migration and asylum procedures. More than 160 people from the EU asylum agency are on the ground in Cyprus, the EU VP tweeted.

At the facility, he made the comment about Turkey taking on its responsibilities to stem the flow. He also said the Commission would be helping Cyprus to fortify the 180km-long buffer zone that divides the island. Around 90 per cent of asylum seekers who enter the Republic come from the north. Nouris has put the figure at 100 people a day.

Schinas said the buffer zone, which he had also visited in February, was “a special situation we have in the EU that directly concerns the management of immigration”.

“We have to deal with the phenomenon, first making the current leadership responsible for limiting these flows, and we will not let the Turkish Cypriot community consider itself uninvolved in all that is happening,” he said.

“They must also bear the burden of their responsibilities and we will find a way to remind them.”

He said the EU must find a way to help Cyprus organise its presence along the buffer zone in a way that is compatible with the special status of the dividing line that does not have the official status of ‘border’.

But at the same time, he said the special status of the buffer zone and the Green Line should not be used as an excuse to get out of doing what needs to be done to stem the migration flow.

Asked if there was any response from Turkey to the request to help reduce inflows, Schinas said the issue had been raised with Turkish interlocutors at all levels and at a high political level and  directly to the Turkish leadership.

He also said that he has spoken repeatedly to both Turkish Airlines and the private company Pegasus because there was evidence that many of the asylum seekers use those airlines.

“We have information on how these moves are made. We have data on student visas in schools which we need to see if they are really schools, whether they are student visas, how this circuit works,” he said.

“I repeat that there is an issue with the Turkish Cypriot leadership that must assume its responsibilities.”

Nouris said plans were moving forward for buffer zone areas “knowing the peculiarities and respecting the special status”.

“There should be a restriction on illegal entry into the Republic because today the number of asylum seekers has reached five per cent of the population, something that does not happen in any of the other front-line member states,” he said.

On the wider issue of numbers, Schinas spoke about the new centre to be created at Limes that will cost €72m, which he called the EU’s “commitment”.

He also welcomed the “consistent commitment of the Republic of Cyprus, in cooperation with the EU, which has so far successfully organised around 3,000 returns of people who have no reason to be in the EU”.

“This is the way, and the returns will continue with undiminished intensity and always in cooperation with the EU,” he added.

Speaking of Pournara, he said he saw significant improvement since his last visit.  The facility has been plagued by overcrowding and other issues, some related to unaccompanied minors, most of whom were moved out.

“Since February, my visit makes me happy to see that significant progress has been made in many areas,” he said, adding decongestion was already evident.

“We are continuing our interventions at the facility and I see significant improvement in matters relating to both the space and the facilities and the sewerage”.

Nouris thanked Schinas for his clear statement on all matters, and for the assistance from Brussels. The goal, the minister said, was to “minimise flows and maximise returns”.

“We are consistent in this goal and the tools we need to make these efforts succeed are, among other things, the Limnes pre-departure centre where we will have EU support in all funding so that we can put this into practice,” he added.

Nouris said that the number of Pournara residents was currently 1,800, significantly lower than the 3,330 which was the highest number it saw last March.

The negative development however was that in the first five months of 2022 Cyprus exceeded 10,000 asylum seekers, a number that is 100 per cent higher than last year. “It seems that we will reach a number within this year that will create additional problems for us again”.

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