Cyprus overwhelmed: Government calls for EU help after registering 21,500 asylum claims last year alone

Migrants carrying their suitcases, exit the Pournara migrant reception center, following fighting between rival groups inside the camp near the village of Kokkinotrimithia on the outskirts of the capital Nicosia, Cyprus, Friday, Oct. 28, 2022. Tensions inside the often overcrowded camp occasionally boil over into fighting as Cyprus continues to deal with large numbers of arriving migrants. (AP Photo/Petros Karadjias)
By Thomas Brooke
4 Min Read

The number of asylum seekers currently resident in Cyprus has increased by 490 percent since 2016, the country’s Interior Minister Constantinos Ioannou told MPs on Thursday.

The minister has urged the European Union to implement an EU-wide action plan to stem the flow of migrants utilizing the increasingly popular Eastern Mediterranean route to Europe.

Ioannou used his first appearance before the parliamentary committee of internal affairs to reveal the extent of the migrant crisis overwhelming the island nation, claiming that a total of 21,565 new asylum claims were recorded in 2022 alone.

Much is written regarding the Eastern Mediterranean route being used by migrants to enter Greece and Bulgaria, primarily from Turkey, but less so regarding Cyprus. However, Ioannou’s figure would amount to more than half of the 42,831 migrants, according to Frontex’s official figures, who trekked the route last year actually ending up in Cyprus.

The 55,000 new arrivals since 2016 correspond to just shy of 5 percent of the country’s 1.24 million population, revealing a noticeable change in the country’s demographic.

Migrant camps in the country are now overcrowded, and several incidents last year resulted in riot police being deployed to the Pournara migrant reception center near to Nicosia to break up rival groups from Congo and Nigeria.

The recent influx of new arrivals forms the basis of a new migration and asylum ministry being proposed by the Cypriot government, for which legislation for its establishment is expected to be debated by lawmakers in May.

Ioannou also revealed that more guards will be hired to increase border security, particularly close to the demilitarized buffer zone to the country’s north.

The government minister used his committee appearance to urge the European Union to take greater action in helping nations at the bloc’s external frontier in handling the crisis, adding that no matter what the government does currently, if Turkey refuses to take action in the Turkish-occupied north of the island to stem the migratory flow, no increase in staff or fast-track asylum procedures will make any difference.

He also called for relocation quotas to fellow EU member states to be mandatory, revealing that of the many thousands to have claimed asylum in Cyprus last year, just 96 people were relocated from the island to other member states.

The rapid rise in numbers in recent years has led to a increasingly negative stance toward migrants and asylum seekers by Cypriots, according to a recent UNHCR study.

“The small size of Cyprus, the possible changes in the island’s demographics and the fear of criminal/violent behavior continue to constitute the main concerns the public has regarding refugees and asylum-seekers,” the report, conducted by University of Cyprus’ center for field studies, revealed.

It claims a rise in “xenophobia and racism posed by the local population” has resulted in a “significant negative shift in attitudes towards integration” between 2018 and 2022, with a significant number of Cypriots now of the belief that new arrivals lack the willingness to integrate into Cypriot society.

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