NICOSIA, Cyprus—Cyprus wants the European Union’s border agency Frontex to step in and prevent the flow of illegal immigrant arrivals from Turkey that authorities say have stretched the eastern Mediterranean island nation’s asylum system to its limits.
It’s also asking the EU to “activate all available mechanisms” to help the country manage the arrival of Syrians either directly from Syria—especially the port of Tartus—or from Lebanon or Turkey.
The Cypriot Foreign Ministry says Turkey hasn’t included Cyprus in its program to halt illegal immigrant flows into the 27-member bloc since the deal was signed five years ago.
The country of around 1.1 million people is also asking the EU’s executive arm to help relocate a “significant number” of Syrian asylum-seekers who have been granted international protection.
“Their numbers have reached such levels that their integration into local communities is realistically unsustainable,” the ministry told The Associated Press on Thursday.
According to official figures, 1,337 Syrians have reached Cyprus by sea since 2019—and one third of them came in the last three months.
More significantly, 3,896 Syrians have reached Cyprus from Turkey in the last two years, usually flying into the island’s breakaway Turkish Cypriot north before crossing a porous, U.N.-controlled buffer zone into the south where they seek asylum with the island’s internationally recognized government.
Cyprus was split along ethnic lines in 1974 when Turkey invaded in the wake of a coup aimed at union with Greece. Only Turkey recognizes a Turkish Cypriot declaration of independence and maintains more than 35,000 troops in the north. Cyprus joined the EU in 2004 but only the south enjoys full membership benefits.
The ministry suggested other EU member states could help take in some of these immigrants in line with a relocation scheme agreed a few years ago for Greece and Italy.
The Cypriot government will also formally request additional EU funding to build a new accommodation center to house asylum-seekers as well as a “pre-departure center” for those who have had their asylum applications rejected.
The number of immigrants who have either received or have applied for international protection in Cyprus now accounts for four percent of the country’s population.
Cypriot authorities say controlling the flow of immigrants from the north into the south is exceedingly difficult because the buffer zone isn’t a recognized border where authorities can take strict measures to curtail peoples’ movement. There are nine crossing points along the 180-kilometer (120-mile) buffer zone, but most of it is unregulated.
The Foreign Ministry said Cypriot police carries out daily patrols along the buffer zone and thermal cameras will soon be installed to monitor crossings in remote areas.
By Menelaos Hadjicostis