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Cyprus at forefront of illegal EU border crossings

migrants gather outside the kokkinotrimithia refugee camp on the outskirts of nicosia
Migrants outside the Pournara camp

Cyprus is at the forefront of a shifting pattern of illegal border crossings on the Eastern Mediterranean route, an EU agency for Asylum report said on Tuesday, confirming the pressures faced by the island.

The Republic received by far the highest proportion of EU applications relative to population size in 2021, with more than 1,500 per 100,000 inhabitants, followed by Austria’s 432 and Malta’s 294.

The European Union agency for asylum (EUAA) released its report on Tuesday which noted that Cyprus faced a sharp increase in arrivals, while other external border nations such as Greece saw levels decrease.

The EUAA describes itself as an EU agency mandated with supporting member states in applying the package of EU laws that governs asylum, international protection and reception conditions. Cyprus receives such assistance, as seen by the agency having carried out 59 per cent of registrations on the island.

The agency further confirmed that asylum applications in the Republic rose 82 per cent in 2021 compared to the previous year, while in Greece they decreased by 30 per cent.

It further stated that the backlog in Cyprus remained high, with 18,805 pending asylum cases at the end of 2021.

“This was due to external factors, including a high inflow of applicants,” the report explained.

Nationals of Syria, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Nigeria were the largest groups to apply for asylum, and for all there were considerably more applicants than in 2020.

Elsewhere, the report stated that Cyprus’ asylum services prioritised applications submitted in detention and at police stations. Due to an increase in the number of applicants from the Democratic Republic of the Congo and from other African countries, Cyprus examined these applications with priority.

It also found that in terms of applications relative to GDP, Cyprus again received by far the most applications in 2021. It numbered 59 applications per €100m of GDP, followed by Bulgaria and Greece (16 each).

The EU as a whole received 648,000 applications last year for international protection, a third more than in 2020.

In addition, the bloc received about 3.4 million requests for temporary protection from those fleeing conflict in Ukraine.

Half of all applicants were aged between 18 and 34, while about 70 per cent were male. Nearly three in ten applications came from minors and four per cent of all requests were from unaccompanied minors.

The report comes amid concerns expressed by EU officials that a hunger crisis worsened by the disruption of Ukraine’s grain exports will trigger chaotic migration from the Sahel and sub-Saharan regions of Africa, with numbers already on the rise this year, Reuters reported.

EU officials have warned of broader “hybrid threats”, including the possibility that irregular migration is used as a political pressure tactic by hostile actors. Just this week, at least 23 Sub-Saharan migrants died after they attempted to cross from Morocco to the Spanish enclave of Melilla.

For its part, Cyprus has long condemned Turkey as “instrumentalising” migration flows to alter the island’s demographics, with senior government officials stating that up to 85 per cent of illegal entries take place through the green line.

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