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EU urges Turkish Cypriots to cut migrant arrivals

Nik Martin
June 18, 2022

The Cypriot government says the vast majority of migrants enter the island's breakaway north via Turkey and then seek asylum in the EU-backed south. Arrivals doubled to about 10,000 in the first five months of this year.

European Commission Vice President Margaritis Schinas giving a speech in Strasbourg on December 15, 2021
European Commission Vice President Margaritis SchinasImage: Julien Warnand/AFP/Getty Images

European Commission Vice President Margaritis Schinas on Saturday called on Turkey and the Turkish Cypriot government to do more to stem migrant arrivals on the ethnically divided Mediterranean island.

After a visit to an upgraded migrant facility outside the capital, Nicosia, Schinas said Brussels "won't let the Turkish Cypriot community consider itself neutral in what is going on."

His remarks come amid a large increase in the number of asylum-seekers arriving in Cyprus, and most arrive in the breakaway northern half of the island.

"They [the Turkish-Cypriot government] must also assume their share of responsibility and we'll find a way to remind them," Schinas said, adding that Brussels will hold talks next month with Cyprus to explore ways of best handling the issue.

Schinas added that Brussels will help Cypriot authorities to deter crossings between the north and south.

Turkey 'willing to help'

He also said Turkey has demonstrated a willingness to help ease the number of migrants arriving in Cyprus and spoke of multiple talks with Turkish airlines as many migrants use the carriers to fly into northern Cyprus.

Cyprus' ghost town of Famagusta

Cyprus was split in two in 1974 when Turkey invaded following a coup on the island aimed at union with Greece. 

Both sides are divided by a 180-kilometer-long (120-mile long) UN buffer zone.

Only Turkey recognizes the Turkish Cypriot government in the north, while the Greek Cypriot government in the south is recognized by the international community.

Although the whole of Cyprus is part of the EU, membership privileges are suspended in the Republic of Northern Cyprus due to the lack of recognition by Brussels.

How do most migrants arrive in Cyprus?

The Cypriot government says around 90% of migrants enter via Turkey and the breakaway Turkish Cypriot north through a loosely regulated student visa system.

Thousands of people then cross the UN buffer zone to seek asylum in the Greek Cypriot south.

Many of them are then held at the Pournara migrant camp, which had been plagued by overcrowding before the upgrading.

Nicosia says around 10,000 people claimed asylum in the south in the first five months of the year, a doubling from the same period in 2021.

Asylum-seekers now make up about 5% of Cyprus' 915,000-strong population in the south — a record figure across the EU.

Interior Minister Nicos Nouris said Cyprus was working with Brussels to speed up the return of failed asylum claimants but required further EU funds to build a new migrant reception center.

The planned facility at Menoyia, near Larnaca, is expected to cost €72 million ($75.6 million).

Cyprus has so far returned some 3,000 failed asylum-seekers, said Schinas.

With material from The Associated Press