NICOSIA, Cyprus (AP) – France has agreed to help start talks between Cyprus and French-speaking African countries on a deal to take back their citizens whose asylum claims have been rejected, said on Saturday. Cypriot Minister of the Interior.
Interior Minister Nicos Nouris said his French counterpart Gerald Darmanin made the pledge during a brief visit to the Cypriot capital on Friday.
Nouris said the “overwhelming majority” of migrants who arrived in ethnically divided Cyprus last year came from countries in sub-Saharan Africa with which the European Union has no such return agreements. Nouris said he might travel to Paris next month to discuss details of these potential deals and other migration issues.
Cyprus claims to have the highest number of first asylum applications among the 27 EU members compared to its population of 1.1 million and its reception system has reached a breaking point.
About 80% of all migrants enter Cyprus from its separatist north, then pass through a porous UN-controlled buffer zone to seek asylum in the internationally recognized south.
Nouris said 15,000 migrants whose asylum claims were rejected cannot be deported from Cyprus due to the EU’s lack of return agreements with their countries.
Cyprus this week signed a 27.5 million euros ($ 31.8 million) deal with Israel to install a camera system to monitor the 180-kilometer-long buffer zone.
The Cypriot government claims that Turkey is routinely routing asylum seekers to the Turkish Cypriot north of the Mediterranean island so that they put pressure on the government of the south of the island, recognized by the UN.
Cyprus was divided in 1974 when Turkey invaded it following a coup by supporters of union with Greece. Only Turkey recognizes a Turkish Cypriot declaration of independence in the north. Decades of reunification talks have come to naught.
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