Secessionist Turkish Cypriots in ethnically divided Cyprus must do their part to stem migrant arrivals, a senior European Union official said on Saturday, as the number of asylum seekers has risen dramatically so far This year.
European Commission Vice-President Margharitis Schinas said Turkish Cypriot authorities should also be held accountable for limiting migrant arrivals.
“We will not let the Turkish Cypriot community view themselves as neutral in what is happening,” Schinas said after touring improved facilities at the Pournara migrant reception camp outside the capital. “They also have to take their share of responsibility and we will find a way to remind them.”
Cyprus was divided along ethnic lines in 1974 during the Turkish invasion following a coup aimed at union with Greece. Only Turkey recognizes a Turkish Cypriot declaration of independence. Cypriot government authorities say the overwhelming majority of migrant arrivals are via Turkey and the Turkish Cypriot north via a loosely regulated student visa system.
Thousands of people then cross a porous buffer zone controlled by the United Nations to seek asylum in southern Greek Cypriot where the internationally recognized government is based. Although Turkish Cypriots receive EU funding, only the south enjoys all the benefits of membership.
Schinas said EU Commissioner Elisa Ferreira will hold contacts in Cyprus in July to explore the best ways to handle the problem. He also said that Turkey has demonstrated its willingness to help reduce the number of migrants arriving in Cyprus.
The EU will also help the Cypriot authorities to strengthen control and surveillance of the buffer zone to deter crossings in a manner compatible with EU law, as the 120-mile-long zone is not a border. official, Schinas said.
Cypriot Interior Minister Nicos Nouris said the number of asylum seekers had doubled to 10,000 in the first five months of this year compared to the same period in 2021, repeating that they represented a European top 5% of the 915,000 inhabitants of Cyprus in the south.
He said the Cypriot authorities were working with the EU to facilitate the return of asylum seekers whose claims have been rejected as well as additional funding from the bloc of 27 member countries to the tune of 72 million euros to build a new reception center for migrants.
Although overcrowding at the Pournara center has eased considerably in recent months, a 27-year-old Nigerian, Miracle Chidiebera, said there was still a lot of anger among migrants over what he described as a shortage chronic water, bad food and crowded facilities.