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EU plan only way to deal with migrant issue: minister

migrants walk outside the kokkinotrimithia refugee camp on the outskirts of nicosia
Migrants at Pournara Camp

The government is hoping that an ΕU action plan to deal with irregular migration flows in the Eastern Mediterranean will be a permanent solution to Cyprus’ issue.

The complexity Nicosia faces in trying to get a handle on the migration flows is that 95 per cent seek assistance after having crossed through the Green Line.

But, as Interior Minister Constantinos Ioannou explained to MPs at the House ad hoc committee on demographics on Tuesday, the lack of communication with Turkey on the issue means there is little hope of it being resolved.

He said that the EU could therefore act as the broker to finally make progress.

“The most important action that will essentially solve the problem is the help we will get from the EU, since there is no channel of communication with Turkey and it is documented that 95 per cent of the flows come through the Green Line,” Ioannou said.

Emphasising that he will continue the work of Former Interior Minister Nicos Nouris, Ioannou reiterated that the European Council in February called on the Commission to come up with an action plan on the migration route pressing Cyprus.

He further stressed that 50 per cent of those arriving in the EU through the Mediterranean route end up in Cyprus.

Underlining the need for the EU to step up, Ioannou said that the 21,500 arrivals in 2022 accounts for six per cent of Cyprus’ population – whereas arrivals in other EU nations are at about one per cent.

“If we’re talking about solidarity then it must be shown in action,” the minister said.

But while Ioannou’s focus is on drawing up the EU action plan, he also pointed to other tools which are in use and under further development.

He detailed that returns last year reached 7,500 and are at 1,900 for the first three months of 2023. Ioannou noted, however, that voluntary returns are nowhere near as effective as had been hoped, with just 100 having taken up the offer.

Elsewhere, the minister also informed MPs of the massive pressure at the Pournara reception centre due to the volume of people passing through it.

He added that the centre is set for a €25m upgrade, to be completed by October, while the Menoyia pre-removal centre (800-person capacity) is scheduled to be completed within two years.

Another prong is speeding up the review of asylum claims, a long-standing issue which has so far not kept pace with the increase in applications.

The goal, he said, is to get 2,000 claims reviewed a month instead of the 1,200 currently – while employing another 25 members of staff, by September. There are currently 30,000 applications to be reviewed.

Highlighting the scale of the problem, committee head and Elam MP Linos Papayiannis said that there were 21,000 asylum requests in 2022 but only 7,682 returns.

“These two figures speak for themselves,” he said.

 

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