The first group of 12 migrants have departed Cyprus for the Vatican after Pope Francis agreed to offer them asylum during his visit to the island earlier this month.
An Interior Ministry statement said that at dawn Thursday, “the first group of twelve asylum seekers departed out of 50 selected to relocate to the Vatican, during the recent visit of Pope Francis to Cyprus.”
“This symbolic move by the Pope is recognition of the difficulties Cyprus is facing with the ever-increasing flow of migrants illegally crossing the Green Line to the Republic,” said the ministry.
It blamed Turkey for “systematically instrumentalises migration towards Cyprus”.
“We would like to warmly thank Pope Francis and the Holy See for this symbolic action, and we expect that it will be a springboard for substantial solidarity from the other Member States towards the Republic of Cyprus.”
Among the 50 selected included two Cameroonians who had been stranded in the buffer zone for the past five months.
Nicosia Central Prisons said 10 of the 50 chosen migrants were inmates jailed for illegal entry.
Cyprus, geographically the closest European Union member state to the volatile Middle East, says it has been inundated with arrivals in recent years.
Migrant arrivals so far this year are up 40% compared with the whole of 2020.
Government data shows that for the 11 months to November, 12,000 undocumented migrants have arrived in Cyprus, the majority from the Turkish occupied north of the island.
Nicosia says asylum seekers and those eligible for international protection correspond to 4% of the population compared to 1% in other EU front-line states.
Cyprus has called for assistance from Brussels and other EU member-states.
Many asylum seekers are from war-torn Syria, but arrivals from sub-Saharan Africa have also increased in recent years.
Pope Francis made solidarity with migrants his key message during his Cyprus visit on 2-4 December.