The interior ministry is seeking repatriation of some Syrians as it says it is approaching the immigration issue comprehensively, Interior Minister Constantinos Ioannou said on Friday.
Speaking against the backdrop of increasing violence towards migrants on the island, the interior minister listed the country’s measures to control migration.
Ioannou revealed that, for the first time in the history of immigration in Cyprus, more people have departed than arrived in the past four months. Repatriations increased by 50 per cent, from 3,200 to 4,800 according to the minister.
Speaking to reporters in Mesa Yitonia, Ioannou noted that over the last six months, he has consistently announced tangible results concerning immigration.
“Irregular migrant arrivals have decreased by 50 per cent compared with last year. During the same period this year, fewer than 6,000 have arrived, as opposed to 12,000 last year.”
He attributed this trend to both government actions and external factors. “We remain cautiously optimistic because anything can change in immigration due to external factors at any moment,” Ioannou remarked, emphasising the significance of repatriations.
The influx of arrivals from Syria is currently a major concern for the interior ministry, he said.
Syria is considered an unsafe country, he added, and therefore, no country in the world has deported these nationals. But Cyprus has requested the re-evaluation of the status of the country, the minister noted.
“Some boats come directly from Syria, which is why we will request from the EU to initiate a discussion on the re-evaluation of Syria’s status.”
Ioannou explained that there exist areas already considered safe by the European Asylum Support Office, so Cyprus believes that they should be officially recognised as such. This recognition would allow repatriation of Syrians back to their country.
In his statements, Ioannou recognised that Paphos faces its own unique challenges in this regard. But added that migration concerns the entirety of Cyprus and not solely the district of Paphos. He mentioned the district since locals attacked migrants and damaged their properties about a month ago in Chlorakas. This was after the government decided to relocate hundreds of third-country nationals, including Syrian refugees, from a specific apartment building in the area due to recurring complaints by Greek Cypriots.
He then turned his attention to the upgrading of facilities through the renovation of the Pournara Reception Centre. He also highlighted the current major issue of insufficient detention facilities, which currently have a capacity for only 126 individuals.
Construction has begun on a new centre with an 800-person capacity, which is expected to make a significant difference, he said. Ioannou added that continuous measures are being taken.
Additionally, he mentioned that asylum examination procedures have been expedited from nine months to three months, making Cyprus a less attractive destination. The ministry is also taking a series of actions in the hope of improving the current situation, he added.
According to the local authorities, to date, around 6 per cent of the approximate 920,000 residents in the south of the island are applicants. In 2021, 27 migrants per 1000 people arrived in Cyprus from countries outside the EU.