The Cyprus government ‘doesn’t have a leg to stand on’ by leaving migrants stranded in the UN buffer zone for close to a week, sources close to the matter told Cyprus Mail on Monday. The government has insisted the migrants are staying put.

The 13 migrants reported to be staying in tents in the buffer zone in Nicosia on Fridayhave now more than doubled to 27.

The migrants, including women, children, and unaccompanied minors are said to be from Afghanistan, Iran, Sudan and Cameroon.

Speaking to the Cyprus Mail, UN sources said that the Republic of Cyprus’ denial of entry violates national, EU and international law.

“The Republic of Cyprus doesn’t have a leg to stand on, as they are asylum seekers.”

But later in the day, government spokesperson Konstantinos Letymbiotis insisted that the migrants would “remain within the buffer zone and are being assisted by the United Nations Peacekeeping Force in Cyprus (Unficyp).”

“The Republic of Cyprus is cooperating with Unficyp to address their humanitarian needs,” Letymbiotis said in a statement, adding that “similar incidents have occurred in the past.”

“We will continue to effectively monitor the buffer zone in accordance with the Green Line regulations,” he added.

According to the information at hand, all the 27 individuals have reported themselves as asylum seekers, but the government had previously said that they would not be allowed into the state-controlled areas, after crossing from the north, due to the Green Line regulation.

According to the source, that regulation does not “override any asylum obligations”.

Meanwhile as a heatwave has hit the country and a yellow weather warning has been issued, these individuals have been stuck in tents in the buffer zone.

Some of them even required hospital treatment and this necessitated them to be transferred to a state hospital for treatment and then to be returned to the buffer zone.

“We are trying to get them to understand their obligations,” the source said about the government’s stance on the matter.

The source added that this issue has the potential to grow.

“This is contrary to all law, and the UNHCR is making these representations to the government to abide to their obligations.”

A source from the interior ministry passed the buck, citing that they are not involved with the matter as the migrants are in the buffer zone.

A few months ago, Cyprus decided that it would no longer be processing asylum applications from Syrian migrants for 21 months but would instead be transferring them to Pournara or Kophinou reception centres, where they would be given food and shelter and no further allowances.

However, this measure was introduced only for Syrian migrants and not for all countries, where migrants come from to apply for asylum.

There has been an increased flow of migrants from the north via the buffer zone in recent weeks after the government was lauding the drop in irregular migration on this route over the last year. The Republic of Cyprus has stepped up its patrols along the Green Line.

The reception centre in Pournara, once overflowing with migrants, has now been reported to have minimal numbers of people staying there, due to a curb in migration.

On Sunday, the head of the UNHCR office in Cyprus Katja Johanna Saha said: “The refusal to refer asylum seekers stranded in the buffer zone to national asylum procedures risks a chain of refoulement to their countries of origin if they return to the occupied northern part of Cyprus due to the absence of an asylum system there, which often leads to the criminalisation of asylum seekers for irregular crossing of the UN buffer zone and the issuance of deportation orders against them,” she said.

Saha added that access to asylum procedures and decent living conditions should always be guaranteed in accordance with the principle of non-refoulement and the right to apply for asylum in accordance with international, national and EU law.