CNA News

Asylum seekers down by 50% and returns up by 80% in 2023, Nicosia says

In 2023, there was a 50% reduction in new asylum applications and an 80% increase in returns as a result of the government’s measures on migration, Government Spokesperson Konstantinos Letymbiotis said on Wednesday, in statements after a Cabinet meeting.

Earlier in the morning, a meeting on migration was held at the Presidential Palace, chaired by the President of the Republic Nikos Christodoulides. On his part, Interior Minister Constantinos Ioannou said that in 2023 migrant arrivals have been halved.

Referring to the meeting held earlier on Wednesday, which was attended by the Minister of the Interior, the Minister of Justice and Public Order, the Minister of Labour, the Deputy Minister to the President, the Deputy Social Welfare Minister and the Chief of Police, Letymbiotis said that after reviewing the measures taken so far and noting a great improvement of the situation, views were exchanged and additional measures and actions were decided in order to further improve the good situation observed in recent months.

He added that, considering the fact that the management of the migration issue is a priority for the Government, it was noted that the timely implementation of decisions taken has contributed decisively to the improvement of the situation.

“The measures taken so far have paid off, resulting in asylum applications for the months of March to November 2023 amounting to 9,091, compared to 17,065 in the corresponding period last year, while returns for the period from 1 January to 15 December 2023 amount to 9,324 compared to 5,166 in the corresponding period last year, showing an 80% increase in returns,” he noted.

He added that in November there were 930 returns/deportations, a record number, and that if the relocations of 1,716 people are added, the total number of returns amounts to 11,040 people and for the first time in the history of migration in Cyprus, more people have left than have arrived in the given period.

He also said that apart from the measures that have already been implemented, additional measures and actions for the coming period were decided during the meeting, such as the promotion by the Republic of Cyprus, in cooperation with other states, of further discussion at the European level on the need to review the status of Syria and in particular some areas that have already been designated as safe by international organizations and the promotion of the tightening and doubling of the penalties foreseen for offences related to smuggling.

“The effective management of the increased migration flows remains among the priorities of President Christodoulides’ administration and at the heart of the policies promoted by the relevant Ministries, with the aim of tackling the problem once and for all”, the Government Spokesperson concluded.

In his statements after the end of the Council of Ministers, Interior Minister Constantinos Ioannou said in reference to the meeting on migration that migrant arrivals have been halved in 2023, with asylum applications down from 22,000 last year to 10,000 this year, as a result of measures relating to crossing the Green Line, pressure via Brussels on Turkey and the information campaign in countries such as Nigeria, DR Congo and Cameroon with 2 million views so far.

He added that there has been an increase to the sea flows from Syria, however there has been a 50% decrease in arrivals and more than 80% increase in returns, which from 5.5 thousand last year have exceeded 11 thousand this year and for the first time in the history of migration, 5% more people have left the country than have come in.

“The results so far are encouraging, we are facing the problem of arrivals from Syria, as due to international conventions and the fact that Syria is still considered an unsafe country, deportations cannot be carried out,” the Minister stressed, adding that the request of the Republic of Cyprus, which he has already been conveyed twice in his statements in Brussels and for which an official letter will be sent to his counterparts in the EU, is the review of the status of Syria, which, however, he said, is not possible immediately.

Asked whether the historic, as it is described, EU agreement on migration changes or helps the government’s plans, Ioannou said it is a step in the right direction, but it does not affect the government’s plans because due to the absence of land borders, Cyprus cannot apply practices of other countries, such as Greece and Spain.

He added that a long-standing request of the frontline countries was to make relocation compulsory, something which was not accepted, and there is now voluntary relocation in times of crisis, which he described as a step in the right direction since solidarity between member states is now recognised and was something that Cyprus, the frontline member state with the highest proportion of irregular migrants (5.3%), has also been asking for.

Asked about the issue of EU financial support to Lebanon, the Minister said that it was progressing and that Lebanon would be supported financially not only by the EU but also by other institutions, adding that he met at the Global Refugee Forum last week in Geneva with the Prime Minister and Foreign Minister of Lebanon, to whom he conveyed the intention to support Lebanon’s request, while Lebanese officials conveyed for their part their intention to monitor the sea routes, despite the country’s limited capacity.

He added as regards Syria that in a meeting with the head of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees Office in Geneva, he raised the request to reassess the status of the country, something, he said, not easy to accept, but efforts are being made to promote it in all forums so that deportations to safe areas can be carried out.