Cyprus Mail

Clampdown on employing irregular Syrian migrants


Two other local actions are under discussion in tandem with the government’s decision to suspend processing of Syrian migrants’ automatic refugee status, it emerged on Tuesday.

These include stepped-up police surveillance of irregular Syrian arrivals who refuse state housing and a clampdown on illegal work.

The packet of local backup actions comes as a “plan B”, in addition to steps taken internationally towards reclassifying parts of Syria as safe, and beefed-up containment of sea departures on behalf of Lebanon.

The next 15-21 days are seen as a critical timeframe for determining whether the set of measures will yield the desired outcome of making Cyprus an unattractive destination and stemming migration flows.

On Monday, permanent secretary of the interior ministry Loizos Hadjivasiliou announced that henceforth Syrian migrants will be taken to one of the migrant reception facilities to live, following a decision to cut all stipends given to them and delay examination of their asylum applications.

He clarified that the state will accept asylum applications but they will not be examined until a maximum EU time limit of 21 months has passed. There are currently 10,000 pending applications for Syrian migrants.

New arrivals will be provided with food and shelter at the Kophinou reception centre, in accordance with international legal obligations.

Sources close to the ministry told the Cyprus Mail that at first Syrians will be given beds in Kophinou and, when that facility fills up, they will be housed at Pournara migrant reception centre.

As for the clamp-down on illegal workers, among measures considered, is activation of a legal clause which allows for suspending the licence of any employer to hire third-country nationals, should the employer be caught illegally offering work to an undocumented Syrian.

The measure is seen as a two-pronged means to curb arrivals, first by discouraging employers taking on Syrians – as they risk losing the rest of their staff as well – and making prospective migrants aware that no work is available for them in Cyprus, Hadjivasiliou told Philenews.

Additionally, those who travel back-and-forth to Syria will recognise they can lose their automatic temporary protection status (renewed annually), and this is also expected to discourage returns, he said.

Interior Minister Konstantinos Ioannou previously stated that the decision had been taken to immediately revoke the refugee status or reject applications from persons proven to have travelled back to Syria through the north, in the last 12 months.

These persons will cease to have access to any right deriving from the temporary protection regime and steps will be taken to repatriate them either by voluntary return or through deportation, if and when this becomes possible, the minister said.

Meanwhile, residents at the Kophinou and Pournara state facilities will be issued a card permitting them to leave the facility. Should they elect to stay elsewhere, the address declared will be regularly checked.

Unlike in the past, where persons granted automatic refugee status were given immediate permission to work, now they now will be ineligible for work for a period of nine months and will not receive rent benefits.

Hadjivasiliou said that the decision would be accompanied by intensive checks at work places for illegal and undeclared workers.

In earlier statements the interior minister had said that all decisions by the state with regards to the latest migration crisis were legal and taken in consultation with the European commission.

If the situation with the arrivals from Lebanon continues, the government has a management plan for additional measures, he said.

According to data from the ministry, a total of 3,703 irregular migrants arrived in Cyprus in 2024 to date, compared to 3,522 in 2023.

As for returns, almost 1,000 more were made in 2024. In 2023 there were a total of 2,348 returns, while in 2024 they currently amount to 3,337.

The stepped-up returns rate is attributed to strengthened cooperation with Frontex, as well as incentivising voluntary returns with the granting of a sum ranging from €1,000 to €1,500, depending on the country of origin.

Meanwhile, construction is underway for the creation of a pre-departure centre in Menoyia, Larnaca, with the capacity to host approximately 800 people. The centre is expected to enable larger-scale operations to arrest and detain migrants whose applications are definitively rejected, caught living and working illegally in the Republic.

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