Cyprus Mail

‘Cyprus to ramp up asylum seeker processing and returns’

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Interior Minister Constantinos Ioannou

The government on Thursday said it is gearing up to tackle the migration crisis, with funding aimed at expanding reception centres, speeding up asylum seeker applications, and increasing voluntary returns to 1,000 a month.

In an interview with the Cyprus News Agency, Interior Minister Constantinos Ioannou detailed the new government plan centres around four pillars. These are: limiting the migration flow, Cyprus’ management (concerning reception centres, asylum applications), speeding up procedures and voluntary returns.

“This is a huge effort and the numbers we have to deal with are a lot.”

The aim is to examine 2,000 asylum seeker applications a month and ensure voluntary returns amount to 1,000 per month.

Where infrastructure in concerned, Pournara reception centre is currently undergoing a €25 million “radical upgrade”. Co-funded by the International Organization for Migration, the works are set to be completed in October to increase the capacity which currently stands at 450, to 700.

The improved infrastructure will also help with the screening process. “Everyone must realise that these are reception centers and no matter how big they are, they are never enough.”

In the meantime, an €8m project is set to begin in June 7 in Limnes, as a reception centre and a pre-departure centre. Ioannou said €67m is coming from EU funding, while the project should be wrapped in around a year-and-a-half or two years.

Ioannou highlighted that for the past six years, Cyprus has been hit with the greated number of asylum seekers in comparison to the population, which adds huge pressure to the Republic of Cyprus. To this end, a deputy ministry of migration is set to be created and head to parliament at the end of Moay.

Nonetheless, Ioannou sought to stress Cyprus’ was not taking an extreme position on the matter.

“The measures we’re taking, even in monitoring the green line, take human rights into serious consideration.”

Currently, there are 30,000 outstanding applications from asylum seekers, which the minister described as a “major problem.” To deal with this, 27 new members of staff will begin in May and another 16 or 17 individuals from the EU agency for asylum.

“While we have between 1,100 – 1,200 applications processed every month, this will increase to 2,000,” Ioannou said.

“There was no capacity to process the outstanding 30,000 applications but with the increasing staff, this will also be resolved.”

According to Ioannou, in 2021 there were 13,000 applications for asylum which spiked to 21,500 in 2022, putting a lot of pressure on Cyprus’ system.

“The way to tackle the migration crisis is to reduce the flow of migrants and increase voluntary returns. Last year there were great results, 7,500 people returned back.”

The office has also been staffed with more personnel and already in the first three months of 2023, a total of 2,047 people were voluntary returned.

“This is around 700 people per month. The goal is to increase them to 1,000 per month.”

Ioannou said he has held meetings with the ambassadors of France and Germany to increase the returns, while where deportations are concerned, talks with the Cameroonian government have led to an agreement of sending 9—individuals.

He noted there is coordination with police to deport 20-30 people a week.

As for the green line, the minister said 220 guards have been hired to monitor the area which have started their training

“I believe they will have a central role where it comes to arresting smugglers but also to deter migrant flows.”

The government is also installing cameras to better monitor the green line, adding 95 per cent of migrants come from the north.

Ioannou noted the ministry is also set to undertake an information campaign in countries such as The Congo and France, as there is a lot of misinformation. He said many migrants are not aware Cyprus in not a Schengen area country and have mistaken information on what benefits they might receive as well as their right to work.

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