Cyprus in ‘state of emergency’ over Syria migrant flows

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Cyprus has warned Brussels it is in a state of emergency due to migrant streams from Syria while reception centres are overflowing, Interior Minister Nicos Nouris said Friday.

The Cypriot minister said he notified the European Commission, warning there is no capacity on the island to host more irregular migrants.

Speaking during a village tour, Nouris said this week, Cyprus faced a “daily wave of migrant arrivals” via the sea route from the southern Syrian port of Tartus.

“Due to this situation and overcrowding in reception centres, I was forced to make written representation to the European Commission,” said Nouris.

“Notifying them that Cyprus is entering a state of emergency as far as migration is concerned, and there is no further capacity to host additional migrants,” he added.

He urged Brussels to get involved in an “immediate and active” manner to deter further illegal departures from Syria.

Since January, almost 4,000 asylum applications have been rejected, said Nouris.

He said Nicosia needed EU help to repatriate those denied asylum in Cyprus as in some cases; there was no bilateral agreement with third countries.

“Cyprus’ longstanding request is that send back agreements, concerning third-country nationals, are handled by the EU and third countries undertake their obligation.”

Although Nouris didn’t name which countries, Turkey has no bilateral agreement with Cyprus as it does not recognise the Republic as an EU member.

Ankara only recognises the breakaway Turkish Cypriot north of the divided island after it invaded and occupied its northern third in 1974.

On Wednesday, Cypriot authorities intercepted a vessel off the island’s east coast, carrying 97 irregular migrants from Syria.

On Friday, authorities said 14 people from Syria, including three children, crossed into the Republic of Cyprus from the Turkish-occupied north of the island via the British Bases.

Nicosia argues that Cyprus is on the EU’s frontline for managing migration and asylum from the eastern Mediterranean.

In the past four years, the number of asylum seekers in Cyprus has reached four per cent of the country’s population, compared to one per cent in other EU states, the government says.

As the EU’s most south-easterly member state, the island has the highest per capita number of first-time asylum claims in the 27-member bloc, according to the Eurostat statistics agency.

Cyprus, 160 km from the Syrian coast, has not seen the massive inflow of migrants once experienced by Turkey and Greece.

More than 12,000 Syrians have sought refuge in Cyprus since 2011; some 8,500 have been granted international protection, according to the UNHCR.