Cyprus Mail

Scale of migration issue stems from Cyprus’ division


2022 in review: more migrants are coming than are being processed or sent back and authorities can’t keep up

Migration is a polarising topic, although it’s probably fair to say that almost every subject is these days with only the loudest voices for or against being heard.

In the words of 20th century British philosopher Bertrand Russell, “The whole problem with the world is that fools and fanatics are always so certain of themselves, and wiser people so full of doubts.”

Most ordinary people would probably fall into the latter category. They may feel for refugees fleeing war and persecution, but they may also silently ask how many asylum seekers a country can take, especially when it comes to economic migrants for whom there is often less sympathy.

It’s the one question that never seems to get answered. It’s not like the EU does not have the means to create a computer model of how many extra people each member state can absorb using population numbers and economic data.

Instead, the policy is to accept everyone and then return those ones who don’t qualify, and while this information is being processed, keep on accepting more.

This is what’s happening in Cyprus. More people are coming than are being processed or sent back and authorities can’t keep up. This was the picture in 2022. In October during a House committee meeting, a senior interior ministry official stated that they had run out of options.

After a breather in 2020 with only 7,000 arrivals due to Covid restrictions, 2021 saw around 13,000 and 2022, over 20,000. In 2019 it was again 13,000 compared with around 8,000 in 2018 and 4,500 in 2017, almost 3,000 in 2016 and only 2,300 in 2015. Last year, Cyprus also took in 15,000 to 20,000 Ukrainian refugees that had to be housed and fed but no one begrudges them presumably.

In 2022, Cyprus did top the list of returns, sending 7,000 people back where they came from, but that is only a drop in the ocean. It is now estimated that there are 70,000 irregular migrants in Cyprus. Most have come across the buffer zone.

For a good number, Cyprus was probably not their preferred destination judging by the daily attempts to exit the country through Paphos airport with fake documents.

These people have landed themselves in jail on charges of forgery and illegal entry, ballooning the prison population. Yet, they are probably better off there than the massively overcrowded Pournara centre.

This poor excuse for accommodation is what refugees have paid thousands to people-smugglers. Some might say ‘serves them right’ but you can’t ever blame someone from a poorer country for wanting something better and it can’t be assumed that they are all ‘chancers’.

Things came to a head in October when during an argument between different African groups, fires were set, and many fled the camp to safety. Twenty people were injured. Order was quickly restored but it is only a matter of time before it happens again because Pournara is hosting three times more people than it’s designed for and they are not a homogenous group.

Despite pleadings over numbers, sometimes the interior ministry can be its own worst enemy. Cypriot officials may be right about the high numbers compared with other member states but then they go and waste time and resources trying to deport people who have been here for decades and have children born here that do not know any other life.

The interior minister, Nicos Nouris never tires of telling us how they can’t cope but when they do something that cruel, they give the uncaring impression that it’s all just a numbers game.

It has however proved a bit of a political boon as a means to castigate Turkey for the weaponisation, or ‘instrumentalisation’ of migrants by directing them towards the north and then across the buffer zone.

European Commission vice president Margaritis Schinas visited Pournara in June and promised to find a way to make the Turkish leadership responsible. The EU would talk to Turkey yet again… because Ankara really cares about Greek Cypriot concerns.

Fast forward six months. Nouris announced that Cyprus was disappointed no agreement was reached in Brussels on a proposed regulation to address instrumentalisation.

There was a reluctance by four member states to promote it to the European parliament. This means that the issue will now be passed to the upcoming Swedish presidency.

This was a major setback as it could have seen action against Turkey and allowed Cyprus to avail of certain derogations from European asylum rules.

The EU makes all the right noises about solidarity with frontline countries such as Cyprus but throwing money at the problem has not worked. They also call Cyprus ‘champions’ in returns because praise is what’s going to resolve the migration problem.

Although the government has tried various means to resolve the numbers game from stricter measures for foreign students to speeding up applications and returns and even erecting barbed wire along sections of the buffer zone – a spectacular failure so far – the fact remains that the sheer scale of the migration issue stems from Cyprus’ division.

If not for this, the numbers would be totally manageable and real refugees could be properly cared for and integrated into society because more resources would be available.

There are those who are of the view that the EU has not properly castigated Turkey because we have not made enough effort to solve the Cyprus issue and therefore migration is our problem and not theirs. And so it remains.

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