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Cyprus an EU model for migrant returns

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Cyprus is viewed as a model country by the EU on the issue of returning irregular migrants, said Interior Minister Nicos Nouris.

He said that is why Nicosia is hosting the second meeting of the European Commission’s High-Level Network on Returns.

“Cyprus was assessed, among the 27 member countries, as the model country in the issue of returns.

“The results we have recorded this year gave us the opportunity to host in Cyprus this very important meeting of the Network on Return.”

Nouris said that in 2022 7,000 returns have taken place, ranking Cyprus first among EU countries.

During his welcoming speech, he hoped the Network would greatly contribute to coordinating the effort, between Member States and the relevant EU agencies, for effective, sustainable, and safe returns of third-country nationals to their countries of origin.

“Unfortunately, in Cyprus, we struggle daily with these numbers, and managing the ever-increasing arrivals of irregular migrants is extremely difficult.”

He said that from January to October, asylum applications have risen to 18,345, which brings the overall number of asylum seekers and beneficiaries of protection status to over 6% of the population of the Republic.

Regarding the Green Line, he underlined that it is not an external border, making Cyprus a special case among EU states.

“Despite the efforts and measures that have been taken, it continues to be our Achilles’ heel, but also the tool used for the instrumentalisation of migrants by Turkey, with a daily flow from the occupied areas.

“It is clearly established that 95% of irregular migrants cross the Green Line constantly and illegally.”

Turkey

Nouris said these figures confirm that Turkey is weaponising migration and the need to stem the migrant flows with deterrent means.

“To relieve the country from the excessively increased flows focuses on a continuous effort to increase returns by own means, but at the same time on the conclusion of agreements with both Member States and third countries, with emphasis on the voluntary return program with financial incentives.

“The rates of returns compared to arrivals are unfortunately disproportionate.

“Nevertheless, with a number of third countries, we seem to have succeeded in overcoming bureaucratic procedures and managed to return a significant number of immigrants.”

Cyprus has signed return agreements with India, Bangladesh, Pakistan, and Vietnam; one is pending with Congo.

“In 2022, we created the Returns Office, an innovative initiative of the Interior Ministry, which coordinates the competent services of the state.

“As a result of this coordinated action, Cyprus is currently in first place in return numbers among the Member States in proportion to the population.

This year Nicosia returned almost 7,000, accounting for 40% of arrivals, as opposed to 17% in 2021.

Nouris said a sharp increase in assisted voluntary returns was also achieved, compared to forced returns, with their rate this year reaching 87%.

“We insist on our position for the need to manage returns and readmissions in a centralised manner, under the operational coordination of the Commission itself.

“It is our belief that this Network is the first important step in this direction.”