Outlook for Cyprus in relation to migration is positive, Interior Minister says

The outlook for Cyprus in relation to migration is positive, as in 2023 a 46% reduction in irregular migrant applications and a 66% increase in returns have been achieved, Interior Minister Constantinos Ioannou has said.

He noted that the positive picture continues in the first month of 2024 and that the number of people currently residing in Pournara is the smallest ever. However, he pointed out that the increase in arrivals by sea remains an 'open wound', for which actions are being considered by the Republic in cooperation with the European authorities.

In a statement at the Presidential Palace, after the Cabinet meeting on 7 February, Ioannou said that he informed the body of the results so far of the measures that have been implemented in the last 11 months on the migration issue.

He said that through a holistic approach focusing on four pillars, the negative picture of Cyprus has been reversed, and now there is a positive balance.

Ioannou said that despite the volatile external factors that can affect migration data, in 2023 Cyprus has achieved a 46% reduction in applications from irregular migrants and at the same time a 66% increase in returns. He added that a significant decrease of 72% was also recorded in the number of new asylum seekers from African countries and 59% in the number of arrivals via the Green Line.

The Minister of Interior also referred to the first indications for 2024, noting that January was equally positive. Specifically, he said, in January, 782 persons arrived in Cyprus, the vast majority of them, i. e. 83% or 647 persons, by sea.

At the same time, he added, the highest number of people leaving the country was recorded, amounting to 1,081 people, who either opted for the voluntary return programme or the relocation mechanism or were deported.

Ioannou stressed that according to the data for January 2024, the percentage of departures over arrivals reached 138%. He said that while the other EU member states have a much lower rate of returns to arrivals - some of them around 1% - Cyprus, with the targeted policies it has implemented, is ranked first in the EU in terms of departures to arrivals and fourth in absolute numbers of returns and deportations.

He also mentioned that at the moment the number of residents in Pournara is around 526, which is the lowest number of residents in many years.

"For these encouraging results, we received praise from Commissioner Johansson, who called on other countries to follow the example of Cyprus, as well as from our European partners and officials of relevant migration agencies such as UNHCR and EUAA," he said.

At the same time, however, the Minister pointed out, that the increased arrivals by sea are of particular concern, noting that within 2023, we have seen a 355% increase in the arrivals of irregular migrants by sea, the vast majority of whom are of Syrian origin.

He said that these people are being pushed from Syria and Lebanon by migrant smuggling rings, and therefore, he added, the aim is to strengthen the effort to fight the smuggling networks and better surveillance of the Lebanese coast.

He said that it was agreed that Europol should become more involved, as also foreseen in the Action Plan for the Eastern Mediterranean.

"At the national level, we have proceeded to set up a team in cooperation with the Aliens and Immigration Unit of the Police to ensure coordination and enhanced operational capacity," he added.

The Interior Minister also recalled the initiative taken by the Cypriot government since last summer to re-evaluate the status of Syria, based on the actual facts prevailing in the country at the moment and following the assessment made by the European body responsible for migration, the European Asylum Organisation, according to which two areas of Syria are considered safe.

By April, he said, the new evaluation plan of the Agency will be completed, noting that a possible conclusion at the European level on the designation of specific areas in the country as safe, will allow the promotion of the return of Syrian nationals to these areas, under strict conditions that will ensure their protection.

Ioannou stressed that the government's goal for 2024 is to process asylum applications within 30 days.

The Minister reiterated that migration is a volatile issue, affected by various external factors, which is why vigilance and preparedness are required at all levels.

"The establishment of the Deputy Ministry of Immigration, which is expected to be adopted next week, will undoubtedly contribute to this direction. Bringing migration-related responsibilities under the umbrella of a deputy ministry is essential to maintain the positive results and further improve them," he added.

(Source: CNA)

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