Cyprus Mail

Government pledge to get tough on illegal migration

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Cyprus wants to go tough on migrant smugglers and will set up a special unit on illegal migration within the police force, government spokesman Konstantinos Letymbiotis said on Wednesday.

Speaking to a pool of reporters after a cabinet meeting, he said that earlier in the day the president held a meeting with the police chief plus the ministers of interior, justice, labour, deputy social welfare minister and undersecretary to the president.

During the talks, more measures were decided, with Letymbiotis highlighting that as the result of the government’s actions on migration, this year marked a 50 per cent cut on asylum applications, coupled with an 80 per cent increase on returns.

Specifically, the government decided that it would push the discussion at a European level to review the status of Syria – or parts of it – as a safe country.

Additionally, it was also decided to toughen and double the penalties for offences related to trafficking illegal migrants, as well as strengthen cooperation with Interpol.

Letymbiotis highlighted that Cyprus will also set up a special unit within the police force to combat illegal migration, and ensure asylum seeker’s benefits are paid into a pre-paid card.

Lastly, efforts will be underway to speed up efforts under the Dublin Regulation to help families in different EU countries reunite.

“The effective management of the increased migration flows remains one of the priorities of President Christodoulides’ administration and at the heart of the policies promoted by the relevant ministries, with the aim of tackling the problem once and for all,” Letymbiotis said.

Meanwhile Interior Minister Constantinos Ioannou said that migrant arrivals have been halved by 2023, with asylum applications down from 22,000 last year to 10,000 this year, as a result of measures relating to crossing the Green Line, pressure via Brussels on Turkey and the information campaign in countries such as Nigeria, Congo and Cameroon which have been viewed two million times.

He added that there has been an increase from the sea flows from Syria, however he stressed the increase in returns, which from 5,500 last year have exceeded 11,000 this year and for the first time in the history of migration, five per cent more people have left than have come into the country.

“The results so far are encouraging,” Ioannou underlined.

Asked to comment on the new EU deal on sharing out the cost and work of hosting migrants, the minister described it as a step in the right direction but that it does not affect Cyprus’ plans as there are no land borders, and as such the government cannot implement policies of other countries such as Greece and Spain.

Letymbiotis referred to a slew of measures taken by the government so far, such as drafting the bill for the establishment of a deputy ministry of immigration and doubling the number of asylum application examiners from 31 to 82, which has resulted in reducing the number of pending applications from 30,188 in March to 26,875 by the end of November.

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