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International protection applications up by 490%

24/03/2023 08:03

Interior Minister Constantinos Ioannou told MPs on Thursday that the number of applications for international protection increased by 490% since 2016, pointing out the need to implement an EU action plan for the Eastern Mediterranean with a view to reducing migratory flows. 

Ioannou, who had his first appearance before the parliamentary committee of internal affairs since having assumed his duties, outlined his vision for the Ministry, pointing out that the aim is for development activity to continue so that cities and communities can become more sustainable and friendly through a balanced growth, enhancing at the same time the country's economy, citizens security and social cohesion.  

Referring to the migration problem, the Minister said that Cyprus has been consistently the member state with the highest number of international protection application in relation to its population and that it has recorded an increase of 490% since 2016. 

As a result, he noted, applicants and holders of any form of international protection in Cyprus, the number of whom is estimated to be over 55,000, correspond to over 6% of the country's population, adding that in 2022 alone a total of 21,565 new applicants were recorded. This amounted to 50% of total applicants in the Mediterranean, while within a matter of 10 months 857 unaccompanied minors arrived in Cyprus.

Ioannou referred to the aim for the establishment of a Migration and Asylum Deputy Ministry, the Bill for which is expected to be submitted to Parliament around the end of May.

Replying to a question about fencing along the Green Line he said barbed wire is not their goal but that they would need to evaluate how it works in practice when it comes to monitoring the ceasefire line. The aim, he explained, is to try to guard the line while at the same time respecting human rights. He added that a decision by the previous government to hire guards will go ahead.

He further noted the need for action on the part of the EU to effectively deal with migratory flows, because as he said no matter what the government does, such as increasing staff to faster review applications and recourses, to fast-track procedures, supporting the returns bureau or building new reception centres, if flows from Turkey through the Turkish occupied areas do not drop, it will not be feasible to effectively deal with the matter. This, he added, can happen through the EU. 

Ioannou referred to the need for implementing an EU action plan for the Eastern Mediterranean, adding that other plans which were implemented elsewhere helped in reducing flows.

He said that a draft of proposals has been prepared which he has discussed with Foreign Affairs Minister Constantinos Kombos, such as a Frontex office in Turkey, sanctions against airlines transporting unaccompanied minors and checking the visas of so called students in the Turkish occupied areas of Cyprus. He also spoke of raising awareness in third countries about the fact that Cyprus is not in the area of Schengen.

The Interior Minister further said that the relocation of asylum seekers to other EU countries should be mandatory rather than optional, adding that so far only 96 people have been relocated from Cyprus.

Replying to questions posed by MPs Ioannou said that last year 16,000 applications were examined and that 30,000 are pending and asked for more personnel, adding that the possibility of the relevant Court operating in the afternoon is also being examined.