The majority of migrants seeking asylum in Cyprus use a student visa issued by Turkish Cypriot authorities, Interior Minister Constantinos Ioannou said this week.
Student visas issued by authorities in the north are “by far” the most popular method used by migrants to reach Cyprus, the minister said in an interview with the Associated Press.
Some 70 per cent of migrants arriving in the government-controlled areas of the island to seek asylum this year used a student visa issued in the north, he added.
Migrants cross the 180 kilometre-long buffer zone to apply for asylum in the south to be able to receive the benefits afforded to asylum-seekers under international and European Union laws and regulations.
Ioannou said most migrants who opt for this route are from sub-Saharan Africa and fly into north Cyprus through Istanbul, Turkey.
Although asylum-seekers choose this route due to its lower risk, and the fact that it is relatively cheap and affords them some semblance of legitimacy, this is viewed as Turkey’s efforts to instrumentalise the migration issue against Cyprus.
“The rising percentage of irregular migrants who enter the Cyprus Republic-controlled areas through the (UN buffer zone) demonstrate the methods that Turkey has adopted in order to instrumentalise the issue,” Ioannou told the American daily newspaper.
Some 95 per cent of all migrant arrivals in Cyprus come from the breakaway north, according to interior ministry figures. Of the 3,665 migrant arrivals so far this year, 3,485 crossed from the north.
To curb this issue, Greek Cypriot authorities are in the process of installing electronic surveillance gear at the crossing points. Furthermore, 300 guards will soon start patrolling sections of the buffer zone. Ioannou said the guards will act as a visible deterrent force, and identified smugglers could face arrest, but they will not push back migrants northward because this could contravene international and EU law.
According to the minister, asylum applications have risen 490 per cent since 2017, with the percentage of either asylum applicants or individuals granted international protection has reached 6 per cent of the island’s population. This is six times the average compared with other European front-line states.
Last year there were 21,565 new applications, and from January to March this year a further 3,182.
Repatriations have also been stepped up — from 1,272 to 7,680 last year. Over 2,700 repatriations took place in the first four months of this year.
As part of EU-approved measures to tackle migration flows via the east Mediterranean, Cyprus aims to use all diplomatic and political tools at its disposal as an EU member to get Turkey to help put a stop to buffer zone migrant crossings, according to Ioannou. He said the EU is also in touch with airlines using Istanbul airport to help stem such arrivals, while a “senior EU official” is expected to visit Cyprus later this month to gauge progress.