Cyprus was disappointed that no agreement was reached in Brussels on Friday with regard to a proposed regulation to address situations of instrumentalisation in the field of migration and asylum, Interior Minister Nicos Nouris said on Sunday.

This has allowed Turkey, yet again, to get off scot free, Nouris said. Though the regulation is ready, he added, there was a reluctance by some member states to promote it to the European Parliament. He said four member states had expressed reservations.

This means that the issue will now be passed to the upcoming Swedish presidency of the bloc.

According to the EU, ministers assessed progress in ongoing work on the regulation, which would allow member states facing a situation of instrumentalisation to exceptionally derogate from some of the common European asylum rules, where necessary and proportionate. It would also provide for specific rules on support and solidarity measures that may be taken in such a situation.

The proposal underlines that the EU would not accept any attempt by third countries to instrumentalise migrants for political purposes, and represents an adaptation of the EU legal framework with concrete measures to ensure an immediate and appropriate response to the hybrid threat and the use of certain migratory flows as a tool for political purposes.

Turkey, Nouris said, “through the instrumentalisation of immigration, seeks to cause economic, social, political problems as well as security and destabilisation problems”.

“Unfortunately the developments and what we experienced at the latest home affairs council in Brussels, where the reluctance of some member states to promote the regulation for a vote in the European Parliament, are disappointing,” he said. “This is a development that it leaves once again, the author of the problem in Cyprus, Turkey, in a safe place away from any sanctions”.

Nouris said he told the Council and that this development has affected European solidarity and hopes that the persistence of Cyprus, with the support of the member states that support it, that “there will soon be a review of positions and a reversal of this negative development”.

He made the comments in his address at a memorial on Sunday for the Heroes of Omorfita.

Later on Sunday, Nouris made more comments during the Cyprus Tomorrow event at the Nicosia Mall, saying that so far this year, the island had received 21,000 irregular arrivals, 95 per cent of whom had come across the buffer zone.

“Turkey is feeding us immigrants through the occupied areas and of course it should have consequences for this action,” he said.

At the same time as Europe is delaying, the minister said, it has “designated us champions, for 2022 in the return of immigrants.

“We have returned 7,100 migrants and we are by far the country with the largest number of returns precisely because we have structured a very effective system of returns,” he said.

Nouris said that in 2020 his ministry examined approximately 4,000 asylum applications but with the application of the fast-track procedure from January 1, 2021, 16,500 have been examined.

He said that the regulation on instrumentalisation would send the message to those countries, especially Turkey, that they cannot remain immune when they use immigration as a tool at the expense of other countries, such as the case of Cyprus.

“We will continue this effort with the Swedish presidency and convince the four countries that had a different opinion,” he said. He did not name them.

Asked about the proposals by presidential candidates for a faster examination of political asylum applications, Nouris stated that with all due respect to the candidates they were possibly not properly informed.

And, although Cyprus is ‘a champion of returns’, Nouris said the problem is there are not many agreements with third countries.

As for the hiring of more people to man the buffer zone, he said the number of applications has now exceeded 420 for 300 positions in the first phase. This process would be complted in the first months of 2023, he said.