Nicosia seeks UN help to stop migrants from north

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Interior Minister Nicos Nouris asked for the help of Cyprus peacekeepers (UNFICYP) to tackle a steep increase in illegal migration flows from the Turkish-occupied north through the UN-controlled buffer zone.

During his US visit, he met at the United Nations in New York with UN Secretary-General’s Cabinet Chief Courtenay Rattray to discuss the situation in the Eastern Mediterranean and the problem of migration in Cyprus.

Nouris raised the issue of the alarming increase recently from the north through the buffer zone, attributing it to the instrumentalization of migrants by Turkey and requesting UNFICYP’s help to stem the flow.

Rattray assured Nouris that he would inform UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres about the situation.

On Friday, the Interior Minister will meet Under-Secretary-General for Peace Operations, Jean-Pierre Lacroix.

Nouris said 94% of the 15,130 asylum-seekers who filed applications until August this year had traversed the buffer zone. That is double the number from the same period last year.

He said the UN has no mandate under its 58-year peacekeeping mission in Cyprus to halt the flow of migrants across the buffer zone.

But the peacekeeping force has sole jurisdiction of the entire 180-kilometre no-man’s land.

Nouris said three Greek Cypriot villages are completely ensconced within that UN buffer zone, which he called “blind spots” where Cypriot authorities have no access and cannot control migrant crossings.

The government was putting up barriers along the Green Line, including barbed wire fences and high-tech surveillance systems and formed a 300-strong patrol unit seeking to obstruct crossings.

Cyprus joined the European Union in 2004, but the buffer zone is not considered an EU external border.

Nouris said the 27-nation bloc has formally acknowledged the buffer zone as an irregular migration gateway and empowered Cypriot authorities to stop crossings using all means employed at external borders.

Cyprus has the highest per capita number of asylum-seekers in the EU and accused Turkey of channelling migrants to the island.

For the first time, 780 Afghans arrived in Cyprus last year.