Cyprus to seek EU help on growing asylum applications

Cyprus will coordinate with other front-line Mediterranean countries bearing the brunt of new migrant arrivals to demand that other European Union member states take in more people who have been granted asylum, the island nation’s interior minister said Wednesday.

Constantinos Petrides said the east Mediterranean country will enact a raft of measures to ease a “disproportionate burden” it now bears as it comes under increasing strain from a surge in the number of asylum applications.

Petrides said Cyprus ranks first among EU member states in the number of asylum applications relative to its population, which is around 1.1 million. In the first eight months of 2018, more than 4,000 asylum applications were submitted compared with 2,600 over the same period last year. In all of 2016, asylum applications spiked by 56 percent compared to the previous year.

Asylum applications are still pending for 7,400 other people. Adding to concerns has been the arrival in recent days of around 140 asylum-seekers from Lebanon, Turkey and Syria.

“If these numbers continue to increase, I admit that we will no longer be able to cope with it,” Petrides said after a meeting with his counterparts from the ministries of foreign affairs, labor and justice to decide on a plan of action to counter the problem.

Petrides said the first priority is face-to-face talks with senior EU officials, including foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini.

Cypriot ministers will also meet with colleagues from other EU partners facing the same problem to demand that the bloc adopts a system that would fairly distribute those granted asylum among all member states.

“A new European Union migration policy must not place a disproportionate burden on front-line countries and small countries that because of their size can’t create those conditions to absorb all those inflows,” Petrides said.

Other measures include negotiating readmission agreements with other countries including Lebanon, which Petrides said has recently seen a spike in the number of migrants leaving the country.

Marine patrols will be stepped up as will high-tech monitoring along the 180-kilometer (120-mile) U.N.-controlled buffer zone that splits the ethnically divided island into an internationally recognized south and a breakaway, Turkish Cypriot north. Petrides said so far this year, 1,520 migrants have crossed over from the north.

New, expedited vetting procedures also will be enacted to weed out what Petrides called “obviously groundless” asylum applications from individuals hailing from what are listed as “safe countries of origin” in order to better offer protection to people fleeing either armed conflict or persecution.

Cyprus lies just 160 kilometers (100 miles) east of the Syrian coastline, but had initially avoided a big influx of migrants fleeing conflict because most wanted to reach mainland Europe. Petrides said the island now appears to have become a final destination for many still seeking asylum as other countries have closed their doors

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