Interior Minister: Cyprus President calls for EU solidarity over migratory flows

President of the Republic, Nikos Christodoulides, called for a display of practical solidarity from EU member states and for a rapid implementation of the Eastern Mediterranean Action Plan to address migratory flows towards Cyprus, while informing on Friday Ambassadors of 26 EU member states, Interior Minister Constantinos Ioannou said after the meeting at the Presidential Palace.

Ioannou said first that the briefing was focused on migration issues, specifically on the migration problem in Cyprus and the promotion of the Republic of Cyprus positions in relation to the Eastern Mediterranean Action Plan. He reiterated that the Action Plan, which was decided last February, aims to limit migration flows to Cyprus, adding that the Republic of Cyprus submitted the positions it believes should be included, which he officially transmitted to Brussels during his visit three weeks ago.

The Interior Minister went on to say that during his visit to Brussels, he was pleased to note that the EU was also oriented towards the same package of measures, adding that the aim is to complete the action plan by June and to start implementing it.

In response to a question, he explained that according to figures presented, there has been a 490% increase in the arrivals of illegal immigrants during the last seven years, 95% of whom enter the territories controlled by the Republic of Cyprus through the Green Line, with Turkey instrumentalising the migration issue, while in the last six years Cyprus has been the first country in terms of illegal immigrant arrivals in proportion to its population.

He further noted that 6% of the population of Cyprus are asylum seekers or persons under protection compared to other frontline countries, where the corresponding percentage is 1% and other EU countries where it is lower than 1%, adding that "we have conveyed that if something is not done in relation to the action plan in the coming months, then Cyprus will be the next country to face a huge problem in terms of migration".

In response to another question, the Interior Minister said that it was clear from the Ambassadors' statements that they understood the extent of the problem.

"They all express solidarity," he said, adding that "we are asking for this solidarity to be demonstrated in practice." Ioannou said he believes that there is a will as Cyprus is receiving financial and technical assistance, but he added that "by presenting the size of the problem and the fact that there are no borders and the existence of the Green Line, which is being exploited by Turkey by sending illegal migrants to Cyprus, we aim to implement more practical measures."

He also noted that according to the data, 70% of illegal migrants are so-called students and said that among the measures submitted by the Republic of Cyprus is the screening of passengers at Istanbul airport and other airports in Turkey, so that they can be certified with documents that they are students.

He also said that it was requested that information be provided to the migrants' countries of origin, as it was observed that too many of them are victims of exploitation who come to Cyprus deceived by false representations, thinking that Cyprus is a country within Schengen, and that from Cyprus they can take the train and go to Germany and that it is a transit station.

On the issue of informing the countries of origin, he said that an information campaign would be launched on social media through the Press and Information Office, adding that in this respect Cyprus is also asking 'for the EU's clout, along with the EU's financial assistance, for a more comprehensive information campaign in these countries."

Responding to a question, he said a voluntary relocation plan is being implemented, which was agreed under the French EU presidency and includes about 1,600 people being relocated to other EU countries, adding that through this plan about 500 were relocated mainly to Germany and some to France.

At the same time, he noted that the government is investing heavily in the voluntary return plan, which is showing encouraging results, as in the last four months twice as many irregular migrants have voluntarily left the country compared to the same four months of last year.

He also said that the target is as from June either through voluntary returns or deportations to return 800 to 1,000 people per month.

Asked about the speed of processing asylum applications, Ioannou said that two weeks ago the number of examiners had been increased so that twice as many applications could be processed, and noted that following arrangements made by the President of the Supreme Court, the number of appeals processed had increased by 60 per cent.

Source: Cyprus News Agency