CYPRUS: Nicosia calls on EU to show solidarity over recent spike in migrants

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Cyprus on Wednesday called on the European Union to offer more practical help, warning Brussels it would be unable to cope if the influx of irregular migrants continued apace.

The Cypriot government has raised the alarm over the number of migrants reaching it shores recently, with more than 140 coming in the past few days alone in seven different instances.

Alarmed at the recent number of migrants – mainly Syrian – arriving on its shores – Cyprus held an emergency ministerial meeting on Wednesday to address the issue.

"There will be a round of contacts with our European counterparts, especially from Mediterranean countries, facing the same problem, so there is better coordination of actions at European level where we demand European solidarity," said Cypriot Interior Minister Constantinos Petrides after the meeting.

He argued that EU immigration policy should not place a “disproportionate burden” on front-line states or small countries like Cyprus “that cannot develop structures that are disproportionate in their size to absorb these flows”.

Cyprus, in proportion to its population, says it faces one of the most serious problems of migratory flows compared to other countries.

“And if they continue to increase, these numbers will no longer be manageable,” Petrides told reporters.

He said according to EU statistics for 2018, Cyprus comes first in terms of population-related asylum claims, “and these are more than 5,000 per million population, followed by Greece and Italy”.

“In the first eight months of 2018, requests for international protection continue to show an upward trend, namely 55 percent higher than in the same period of 2017, in the first eight months Cyprus accepted 4022 political asylum applications compared to 2,600 in the same period last year,” said Petrides.

Last year, there was an increase of 56 percent compared to 2016, he added.

“Migration is a European issue that no country can handle by itself, and solidarity should be translated not only in financial resources but involve the automatic repatriation mechanism,” said Petrides.

Nicosia is looking to broker a repatriation agreement with Lebanon as there have been migrant flows recently from that country, the minister said.

Among other measures, Cypriot ministers agreed to step up sea patrols, enforce repatriation agreements and speed up the asylum process to make sure the non-entitled get sent back

On the other hand, it will be made easier for asylum applicants to find work.

Petrides said that most asylum seekers in Cyprus are Syrians, whom this year amounted to 860. The rest are mainly from India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Egypt and Iraq.

"It is a matter of concern to us…since 2008, refugee status has been granted to 1090 people and the status of supplementary protection to 6784 people, while 7406 applicants are pending."

The comments come after Cypriot marine police said they intercepted and escorted 36 Syrian migrants ashore on Monday.

Cyprus, an EU member state located 160 km from Syria's Mediterranean coast, has not seen the massive inflow of migrants experienced by Turkey and Greece.

The UN refugee agency has estimated that at least 2,000 migrants came to Cyprus in 40-odd boat trips since 2015.