Cyprus Mail

One asylum application for every 78 residents (updated)

Pournara migrant reception centre

In 2023, Cyprus received one asylum application per 78 inhabitants, figures released on Wednesday show.

This figure means Cyprus receives far more applications per head than anywhere else in Europe.

According to the European Union Agency for Asylum (EUAA), applications across the block jumped 18 per cent to a new high last year of 1.14 million, numbers not seen since the 2015-16 migrant crisis.

Interior Minister Constantinos Ioannou said that last year the number of people at the Pournara reception centre in Kokkinotrimithia reached a record number of over 3,000, while when he took over as minister the number of pending asylum applications exceeded 30,000.

After evaluating the situation and with the aim of creating the conditions for better immigration management, the new government, he said, adopted a strategy based on four central axes: reduction of new asylum seeker arrivals, speeding up of procedures for examining asylum applications, improving hospitality infrastructure and reception conditions, and increasing the number of returns.

One of the most pressing issues concerned “the mass arrival of irregular immigrants through the Green Line,” Ioannou said.

These were mainly nationals of Sub-Saharan African countries, who arrived through Turkey to the occupied territories, most of them having so-called student visas, and then passing through the free areas, where they applied for asylum, he added.

“What became clear was that the vast majority [of asylum seekers] came to Cyprus for the economic benefits and not because of the danger they faced in their country.

“The uncontrolled migration flows were also compounded by the fact that the traffickers, taking advantage of the need of these people for a better life, created expectations among the migrants, seducing them to believe that Cyprus is an ‘economic paradise’, where they could have access to large amounts of benefits, as well as in the labour market until their asylum application is examined,” Ioannou said.

Working against this, the ministry implemented “successful online information campaigns” in countries such as Nigeria, Cameroon and DR Congo to provide accurate information about the conditions in Cyprus.

Other measures to reduce Cyprus’ attractiveness as a destination included immediate benefit withdrawal for rejected asylum applicants and extending the waiting period for the right to work after applying for asylum.

The minister said the government also intensified controls in industrial sectors to combat illegal employment, working closely with the labour ministry.

“Recognising the role of organised traffickers in migrant flows, we prioritised cooperation with neighbouring countries to dismantle trafficking networks, establishing a dedicated unit within the police for this purpose,” Ioannou said.

According to the interior ministry, the result of the measures was a reduction of arrivals and asylum applications of 37 per cent and 50 per cent respectively.

Υπουργός Εσωτερικών – Απολογισμός

Interior Minister Constantinos Ioannou presenting the figures on WednesdayIn 2023, Ioannou continued, time to process asylum applications was estimated on average at 12 months, with several instances in which it increased to as many as 21 months.

The interior ministry attributed the lengthy processing times to understaffing issues affecting the Asylum Service and delays in the legal proceedings.

“To address this problem, the interior ministry proceeded to gradually increase and eventually more than double the number of asylum examiners, which now stands at 85 from 35 last March,” he said.

One of the main concerns Ioannou highlighted was the significant influx of Syrian nationals entering Cyprus via sea routes from Syria or Lebanon.

“Specifically, in 2023, there was a 50 per cent increase in arrivals compared to 2022. Data collected indicates that these individuals are being facilitated and exploited by organised migrant smuggling networks,” Ioannou said.

In response to this issue, the interior ministry reiterated the pressing need to enhance efforts to combat criminal activities linked to migrant smuggling.

“Urgent action was taken to address this matter with the relevant bodies of the European Union, urging them to take more proactive measures to bolster the operational capabilities of member states,” he explained.

This includes involvement from Europol within the framework of the Action Plan for the Eastern Mediterranean.

Furthermore, Ioannou repeated that the government has been championing an initiative since last summer aimed at deliberating and reevaluating the situation in Syria.

“This initiative is based on current data within the country and follows an assessment conducted by the EUAA, which identified certain areas of Syria as safe. An updated evaluation from the agency is anticipated in April.”

He concluded by saying that provided there is consensus at the European level to designate specific areas within Syria as safe, the repatriation of Syrian nationals “would be facilitated”.


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