Cyprus asks EU for help as migrant influx increases

More than 140 migrants reached the EU’s easternmost state in the past four days alone

Cyprus Interior Minister, Constantinos Petrides.

Cyprus Interior Minister, Constantinos Petrides, on Wednesday said the 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.

As Petrides stated, Cyprus had received 4,022 asylum requests in the first eight months of 2018, which was 55 percent more than for the same period last year. In 2017, the increase was 56 percent compared with the year before that. Moreover, 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, because of which EU’s easternmost state held an emergency ministerial meeting.

"If these numbers continue to increase, I admit that we will no longer be able to cope with it," Petrides said, citing EU statistics for 2018, which show that Cyprus was first in terms of population-related asylum claims at more than 5,000 per million population.

Thus, he noted that one of his government's first priorities is face-to-face talks with senior EU officials, including foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini. Furthermore, Cypriot ministers will also meet with colleagues from other front-line Mediterranean countries bearing the brunt of new migrant arrivals 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.

Nicosia is looking to broker a repatriation agreement with Lebanon as there had been migrant flows recently from that country. Among other measures, Cypriot ministers agreed also to step up sea patrols as will high-tech monitoring along the 180-kilometer UN-controlled buffer zone that splits the ethnically divided island into an internationally recognized south and a breakaway, Turkish Cypriot north. Country will also enforce repatriation agreements and speed up the asylum process to make sure the non-entitled get sent back.

Cyprus, which is located 160km from the coast of war-torn Syria, had initially avoided a big influx of migrants fleeing conflict because most wanted to reach mainland Europe and had not seen the massive inflow of migrants experienced by Turkey and Greece. Petrides said the island now, however, appears to have become a final destination for many still seeking asylum as other countries have closed their doors.

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