Previous governments’ inaction over the issue of migration constitutes “a crime against the country and against our people,” Diko leader Nikolas Papadopoulos said on Friday night.

Speaking to party members with Interior Minister Constantinos Ioannou, he criticised “the fact that we have been aware of this problem for years” but that, in his opinion, previous governments had failed to act adequately.

“For too many years, successive governments have underestimated this problem and downplayed it, resulting in no measures being taken to address it, to reduce migrant flows, to speed up procedures, or to improve infrastructure,” he said.

He added, “they weren’t even informing the European Union of the extent of the problem!

He said his party has been attempting to warn of the problem since 2017, and that it had made proposals to deal with the matter in the manifesto it had written prior to the 2018 presidential elections, in which he came in third place.

“As a result of not taking the measures which should have taken place in Cyprus, the largest migration crisis in proportion to population in the EU was created,” he said.

Turning his attention to the current government, voted in partly on a Diko vote, he expressed his satisfaction that “my proposals are being adopted and implemented,” adding, “this government is the first which has managed to see more asylum seekers leave than come to Cyprus.”

He also expressed “certainty” that the new deputy ministry for migration will “strengthen” the government’s stance, “so immigration flows will be reduced even more.”

He closed his remarks by saying “there are two ways to deal with the difficult and complex problems which face the Republic of Cyprus today.

“One is the way of populism promoted by extreme parties, with meaningless noises, swindling, appropriating a real problem and people’s reasonable concerns without any substantial result.

“The other is seriousness and responsibility; the responsible and effective proposals Diko has been proposing for a long time and the proposals implemented by the current administration,” he said.

Ioannou was less scathing of the previous government, in which he served as health minister for over three years.

He did, however, say the current government “received an extremely difficult situation, since the system in our country was under suffocating pressure.”

He added that the government had taken a “holistic approach, based on four central axes, which concern the reduction of asylum seeker arrivals, speeding up application examination procedures, improving accommodation infrastructure and reception conditions, and increasing the number of returns.”

The results of this approach, he said show a 37 per cent reduction in arrivals and a 50 per cent reduction of asylum applications registered.

He also pointed out the 80 per cent reduction “among young asylum seekers from African countries.”

This, he said, “shows that the problem of mass arrivals from Africa has largely been resolved.”

There has been a 66 per cent increase in migrant departures in 2023 compared to the previous year, while the figures for this January showed 782 arrivals and 1,081 departures.

Ioannou said in Europe, “in contrast to Cyprus, where the number of asylum applications has decreased significantly, in the rest of the European countries in the Eastern Mediterranean there was a significant increase.”

“Cyprus, having implemented targeted measures, ranks first in the EU in terms of its ratio of departures to arrivals, and in fourth place in terms of the number of returns,” he said.

In addition, he said the government is making progress with the improvement of the infrastructure in Pournara, as well as upgrading and expanding migrant facilities in Kofinou.

He added that “the most important thing” is that works have started for the construction of a “pre-departure centre” in Menoyia. This, he said, is “the most important thing” and will help to “strengthen the deportation sector”.