NICOSIA – Cyprus will be getting more assistance from the European Union to help handle growing numbers of refugees and migrants arriving on the island, primarily crossing the dividing line with the occupied Turkish-Cypriot side.
The legitimate Greek-Cypriot government complained that they are coming across the so-called Green Line, most from sub-Saharan Africa and wanting to reach an EU country.
But Cyprus isn’t in the bloc’s Schengen Zone that allows visa-free travel between EU states and the arrivals have seen themselves in limbo and essentially stateless with many seeking sanctuary.
“It is a line which is not our external border, but it is our Achilles’ heel and the area where daily dozens of irregular migrants cross through, all coming from Turkey either by air or sea,” said Cypriot Interior Minister Nicos Nouris of the dividing line, reported Reuters.
Cyprus registered more than 12,000 migrant arrivals in 2021 during another COVID-19 pandemic year that’s lingering into another, up more than 40 percent from 2020, and 93 percent crossing from the Turkish-Cypriot side.
They are being stored in detention centers that human rights groups and even some Cypriot lawmakers and officials said are not just way over capacity but don’t have proper facilities to house and support them.
EU authorities said the border agency Frontex would enhance first reception capacity, speed asylum processing, assist integration and make it easier to return to their homelands those migrants denied sanctuary.
The ceasefire line between the sides is 180 kilometers (112 miles) long and runs east to west over terrain from mountains to farmland, is unfenced in many areas and easily crossed despite the presence of UN peacekeepers.
“Nobody can actually understand the (challenges of monitoring) the line without actually seeing it,” said European Commission Vice President
Schinas said he would raise the issue of migrant flows across the line with Turkish authorities in early March although Turkey hasn’t been penalized for continuing to let human traffickers operate during an essentially-suspended 2016 swap deal with the bloc.
Turkey, as all other of our neighbors, must understand a very simple thing: that on the migration issue, they have much to gain if they work with Europe instead of working against Europe,” Schinas said.
Cypriot officials have accused Turkey of deliberately channeling migrants to the island’s north. The buffer zone isn’t recognized as an EU external border and authorities have refrained from building any walls. But officials say they will employ “high-tech measures” to curb buffer zone crossings.
“What I see here today along the Green Line is shocking, it’s a completely different perception of the problem than seeing it from a distance,” said Schinas, adding that Cyprus with its limited resources has to shoulder an “extremely large, disproportionate” burden.
Nouris said Cyprus has in recent years received more migrants per capita than any other EU country dealing with them.
Schinas said the EU is working with Cypriot authorities to thwart migrant crossings. He also said Cyprus should receive significant financial assistance to cope with migrant arrivals and ramp up repatriations of those whose asylum cases have been rejected.
“As far as migration goes, we in Europe have to stop working as firefighters rushing from crisis to crisis and work as architects of a new, overall, cohesive European framework on handling the migration and asylum issues,” Schinas said.