Cyprus Mail

Syrian migrant removals to focus on criminal elements

migrants wait at a fishing shelter in paralimni
Migrants waiting at a fishing shelter in Paralimni last week

Criminal elements are to be the first order of priority with Syrian migrant removals, permanent secretary of the interior ministry Loizos Hadjivasiliou said on Wednesday.

Elsewhere, expert in Arab affairs Evangelos Moussa suggested that the island’s best chance of effecting returns was to engage diplomatically with the Syrian regime.

Since the beginning of April more than 1,000 Syrian migrants have arrived by boat from Lebanon, while another 2,000 had arrived in the first three months of this year.

Hadjivasiliou’s clarification on the government’s intensified domestic approach for coping with the recent surge comes in the wake of criticism of the measures from human rights advocates and opposition party Akel.

Meanwhile, authorities have already identified 30 people from Syria whose subsidiary protection status the ministry is ready to revoke, it emerged on Tuesday.

These are individuals who have travelled back to Syria via the north in the past year and as such will have their protection status imminently revoked and will not have a right to appeal the decision, Cyprus Mail learned from a ministry source.

The development came after decisions were made to make Cyprus as unattractive a destination as possible, discouraging would-be asylum seekers and smugglers alike, with intensified surveillance of Syrian arrivals’ illegal work and movements.

“We are aiming to halt criminal elements and those who have breached the terms of their subsidiary protection status by leaving from Cyprus to Syria,” Hadivasiliou told state broadcaster CyBC.

“These are not families, they are not people who are in danger,” he added.

Referring to the arrival of yet another vessel bearing 20 migrants on Tuesday, the interior ministry rep noted they would be offered food and shelter and their applications would be accepted but processing postponed, as per the new measures in effect.

He reiterated that all arrivals are permitted to request to be hosted by relatives and acquaintances but will not be eligible for any subsidies nor will they be permitted to work.

Responding to criticism that monitoring migrants for undeclared work was challenging to implement in practice, Hasdjivasiliou stressed the measure was in its early stages and if proved inadequate it could be re-evaluated, adjusted or escalated by the state as needed.

Addressing the mission to secure EU agreement to redesignate of part of Syria as safe, one of Interior Minister Konstantinos Ioannou’s main thrusts since he came into office, Hadjivasiliou said it could happen within a desirable timeframe of less than one year, as there were already other states supporting this approach.

Speaking on the same programme, Arabist and geopolitical analyst Evangelos Moussa, suggested that Cyprus’ best bet to effect returns of Syrian migrants would be to establish some sort of diplomatic relations with Syria, despite normalisation of ties with President Bashar al-Asad’s regime being anathema to many states within the EU, notably France.

“Individuals who may have committed all sorts of crimes in Syria can approach smugglers, get different papers with a different name, and then make their way to Cyprus,” Moussa pointed out.

According to the expert, Cyprus’ best bet, being especially vulnerable to uncontrolled migration due it its small size, would be to approach Syria, as Greece has done, via low-key diplomatic activities to enable sharing of background information on would-be migrants who are known criminals.

“It is taking a long time for the EU to recognize the seriousness of the crisis,” Moussa cautioned, warning that an imminent influx of Lebanese nationals to Cyprus would be unsurprising, given the instability of that state.

New routes are being established by smugglers, Moussa said, with Turkey playing an instrumental role as a hub, where Syrians arrive, then travel to Lebanon, and from there on to Cyprus or Greece.

Movement through these routes will also be intensified as Germany seems to be rethinking its open-door policy for Syrian migrants, Moussa said.

“Germany took in the top tier of Syrians, the scientists,” Moussa said, drawing attention to the fact that taking in unskilled or criminal elements was more challenging for any state, let alone a small one, with limited capacities.


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