EU commissioner looks to ease Cypriot anger over arrival of migrants from Turkey

EU commissioner looks to ease Cypriot anger over arrival of migrants from Turkey

The European Union’s home affairs commissioner says she hopes to reduce the flow of migrants from Turkey to Cyprus during talks in Ankara next month. 

Ylva Johansson said the numbers of migrants leaving Turkey for Cyprus made up a small proportion of Turkey’s large refugee population, meaning a solution might be found.

Cyprus has been divided since 1974 when Turkey invaded following a coup aiming for a union with Greece.

Johansson said Cyprus has the EU’s most asylum applications relative to its population.

The former Swedish minister said the EU had previously faced “a lot of challenges” in its relations with Turkey but the situation was improving. She has already held talks with Cypriot Interior Minister Nicos Nouris.

Nouris said Turkey was “systematically and on a daily basis” encouraging migrants to reach Turkish-controlled northern Cyprus and cross the green line into the Republic of Cyprus to apply for EU asylum. Cyprus says about 80 per cent of its asylum seekers arrive from the Turkish enclave, which is only recognised by Ankara.

Nouris said Cyprus is boosting its marine police patrols to intercept trafficking boats hoping to reach its shores and adding electronic surveillance along the southern edges of the buffer zone. The minister said this year 7,000 out of its 8,500 asylum applications have been rejected but only 300 applicants have been repatriated because of “weaknesses” in EU policy. 

Johansson questioned a deal between Cyprus and Lebanon to send back migrant boats intercepted near the Cypriot shore, saying EU regulations state migrants can seek asylum at EU sea borders.

Nouris has defended the arrangement with Lebanon and said the returns to the increasingly unstable country would continue.

US intervention

Robert Menendez, the chairman of the US Senate Foreign Relations Committee, has tried to ease the Cypriot dispute by criticising Turkey’s moves to consolidate the two-state status quo. 

The Democratic senator said Turkey’s demands for two separate states defy UN Security Council resolutions and arrangements agreed between Greek and Turkish Cypriot negotiators to create a unified Cypriot federation. 

Turkey has more than 35,000 military personnel stationed in its northern Cyprus enclave.

The New Jersey senator said both communities could agree to reunification if left without external interference. 

Almost five decades of UN-brokered peace talks have failed to produce a deal acceptable to both sides. Turkey says an agreement based on two states is the only solution.

Menendez has been a vocal critic of alleged Turkish attempts to steer Cypriot talks toward achieving its goal of keeping a permanent military presence in the north and the right for its armed forces to intervene in Cyprus.

“My goal is to see the last Turkish soldier leave the island,” Menendez said during a visit.


The green line in Nicosia. Picture credit: Wikimedia 


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