Migrant arrivals from Syria have doubled in the last couple of months following the outbreak of war in Gaza, Interior Minister Constantinos Ioannou said on Monday.
This has meant that the overall decline in the number of irregular migrants has not fallen as much as had been hoped, he added.
“Although overall in the Mediterranean, irregular migrant arrivals have increased, in Cyprus they have decreased by 50 per cent,” Ioannou told state broadcaster CyBC.
The decreased numbers are due to a steep decline in arrivals through the north via Turkey, he added.
Stricter checks at Turkish airports as well as in the issuance of student visas, and information campaigns in sub-Saharan Africa, led to a 75 per cent decrease in arrivals from those states.
And were it not for the war in Gaza seeing an increase, the overall decrease would have stood closer to 60 per cent, Ioannou said.
Syrians may not be deported as they are considered to be arriving from an unsafe state, but Cyprus has petitioned for the EU commission to re-evaluate this status.
“After 12 years, when the European asylum organisation itself has reclassified two areas of Syria as safe, an official recognition of this revised status would enable us to focus to providing aid to those who need it most,” Ioannou said.
The disproportionate number of migrants taken in by Cyprus in the last several years, took away from the state’s ability to properly service those truly in need, the minister said.
Migration management is set to be updated further through exchange and cooperation with Greece, Ioannou said.
Greece and Cyprus face similar migration challenges as front-line states and an exchange of management methods is expected to be mutually beneficial.
The minister is set to travel back to Greece on Tuesday next week, following up on the first Greek-Cyprus intergovernmental summit on Friday.
“Returns from Cyprus are the highest throughout the EU and this year we have almost doubled deportation numbers, so we will inform [the Greeks] on how this was achieved,” the minister added.
Cyprus is also pushing for Frontex, the EU border agency, to take a more active role in Middle Eastern neighbouring countries, for example in Lebanon, to intercept illegal boats departing for the island.
Addressing the incident in Pournara last week, Ioannou said the centre had seen huge improvements over the past year.
Last week a scuffle between African and Syrian migrants resulted in eight being hospitalised, and the minister getting strict with orders for expedited processing of all involved, including deportation proceedings where warranted. The result was the prompt deportation of 28 African irregular arrivals.
Asked whether poor conditions may have contributed to the scuffle the minister was adamant that this was not the case.
“There is no overcrowding at Pournara now. Where 14 months ago 3,000 people were waiting for months to be processed, with understandable tensions rising, now there are only 1,200 and the average stay is down to two to three weeks,” the minister said.
Moreover, the facility has seen €25 million of upgrades, including to the health clinic and the creation of a safety zone. Where previously large inflows took months to be examined, all processing from start to finish, including outcomes of applications, is now carried out in this shortened time span, Ioannou said.