By Achilleas Demetriades
The increased flow of irregular migrants across the Green Line and via the sea is a matter of great public concern. Many of these people seek political asylum. Cyprus, a contracting member of the Geneva Convention on Refugees (1951) and a member of the European Union since 2004, is required, on the basis of specific procedures, to examine their claims fairly and expeditiously.
According to official statistics, there has been an increase in the number of irregular migrants since 2016 and this is mainly linked to two factors: on the one hand the EU-Turkey agreement which closed the Balkan route and on the other hand the continuation of the conflict in neighboring Syria as well as the serious problems caused by other migratory flows from African countries. In 2016, around 2,000 migrants arrived in Cyprus. In 2019, that number reached around 10,000 per year. There followed a lull in arrivals due to Covid-19, but today these numbers are on the rise again.
I would like to present some of my thoughts on the issue of migration:
- Public opinion must be informed. The government is judged by its policies and the actions it takes, not by statements or meetings it calls. The first question he must answer is, “What have they been doing all this time?”
- The migration issue does not only concern asylum seekers. It also has a direct impact on residents and requires serious planning.
- The government is responsible for determining its migration policy and adapting it accordingly in order to make the best use of the presence of migrants in the country. He must ensure that they are not dependent on state allowances, are not part of ghettos and are not exploited. In other words, the government must work to integrate these people into society and thus help them contribute to economic and social progress. This is what all European directives stipulate.
- Problems, no matter how complex, must be solved and not deteriorate. In my opinion, migration is an issue that can be regulated and managed effectively. If the state services do not respond due to an increasing number of asylum requests, this means that the government did not anticipate the changes in time to provide these services with the staff and tools necessary to cope. to problems. In addition, it seems that the government did not ask the EU for technical and financial support early enough.
- Two ministers, Nikos Nouris inside and Zeta Emilianidou at work, are currently dealing with related issues. Nouris deals with demography and migration while Emilianidou deals with labor market needs. Emilianidou rightly responds to the demand made by professional associations to employ workers from the migrant community and asylum seekers, as employers cannot find Cypriot workers to fill the vacancies. On the other hand, the Minister of the Interior affirms on every occasion that “we have been inundated with foreigners”.
- We need the EU with us to resolve the difficulties resulting from the uncontrolled flow of irregular migrants. We need to allocate funds worth over EUR 100 million appropriately to provide jobs and build infrastructure. In addition to this, we must insist on the implementation of the 2016 EU-Turkey agreement, also in the case of Cyprus. We must fully justify our positions to the European institutions.
- According to the European Court of Human Rights and the United Nations, the policy of ârefoulementsâ amounts to a violation of our obligations under the Refugee Protection Convention as well as other EU directives. This policy, enforced by the government of President Anastasiades, began during the pandemic and is now becoming the norm.
- The EU closely follows these practices. The UN Secretary General deemed it necessary to include in his report of the good offices mission to Cyprus numerous references to this issue; pushbacks, barbed wire and the situation along the Green Line as if it were a âhard borderâ (paras. 40-44, UNFICYP report, 7/9/2021).
- The words the government uses, referring to children “with a migratory biography” are also a source of concern. Such a formulation is an unprecedented regression towards xenophobic practices that target children. I congratulate the Commissioner for the Rights of the Child Despo Michaelidou who intervened immediately, stressing that children in a classroom are just that, children and nothing else. Any attempt to classify or discriminate against them is a violation of the most fundamental rights and contrary to our culture, she stressed in her remarks.
Migration and the effective management of the influx of uncontrolled flows of irregular migrants (provided that the rules for the fair and expeditious examination of asylum applications are respected) is one of the main policies of Cyprus. The protection of the country’s external borders can only be effective through a comprehensive solution to the Cyprus issue and this is one more reason why a political settlement is in our interest.
Concerns about the uncontrolled influx of irregular migrants are justified. Leadership must cultivate a sense of tolerance and acceptance of diversity in society. It must also promote a rational and reasoned approach to the real migratory problem and behave like an honest State, where social justice prevails.
A government must have the capacity to tackle difficult problems, to anticipate, to manage and to adapt its policy. On these he will be judged.
Achilleas Demetriade is a partner of the law firm Lellos P Demetriades LLC https://achilleas.eu