Simon Rushton, The National, June 18, 2022
Breakaway Turkish Cypriots on the divided island of Cyprus must do their share in stemming the arrival of asylum seekers, a senior European Union official said on Saturday.
The plea was made as Cyprus said the number of asylum seekers crossing the UN buffer zone has increased significantly this year.
Elsewhere in Europe, Ukrainians have sought shelter in EU countries as war broke out with Russia, and in the UK increasing numbers of asylum seekers who travelled through southern Europe are arriving on its shores.
European Commission Vice President Margaritis Schinas said that Turkish Cypriot authorities should be held accountable for stopping arrivals.
“We won’t let the Turkish Cypriot community consider itself neutral in what is going on,” Mr Schinas said after visiting upgraded facilities at the Pournara migrant reception camp outside the capital, Nicosia.
“They must also assume their share of responsibility, and we’ll find a way to remind them.”
EU Commissioner Elisa Ferreira will hold meetings in Cyprus in July to explore ways of best handling the issue.
Mr Schinas said that Turkey has demonstrated a willingness to help to reduce the number of asylum seekers arriving in Cyprus.
The EU will also help Cypriot authorities improve surveillance of the buffer zone to deter crossings, Mr Schinas said.
Cyprus Interior Minister Nicos Nouris said the number of asylum seekers doubled to 10,000 in the first five months of this year compared to the same period in 2021.
He said that Cypriot authorities are working with the EU to enable the return of asylum seekers whose claims have been rejected, as well as more funding from the 27 member-nation bloc to the tune of €72 million to build a new migrant reception centre.
The island has been split since 1974, when Turkey invaded northern Cyprus following a brief Greek-backed coup.
Only Turkey recognises a Turkish Cypriot declaration of independence. Cypriot government authorities said the overwhelming majority of migrant arrivals occurs through Turkey and the Turkish Cypriot north through a loosely regulated student visa system.
They cross a porous UN-controlled buffer zone to seek asylum in the Greek Cypriot south, where the internationally recognised government is seated.
Although Turkish Cypriots receive EU funding, only the south enjoys full membership benefits.