Cyprus asks NL to take in asylum seekers

Asylum seekers
Asylum seekers

This week Cyprus will personally ask the Netherlands to take in some of the thousands of asylum seekers living on the island. The situation is untenable, according to the island's Interior Minister Constantinos Petrides. He no longer has confidence that there will be a European redistribution mechanism, and Cyprus is therefore approaching EU countries individually for aid, the Minister said to NOS. 

Up until a few years ago, Cyprus barely noticed the refugee crisis. Asylum seekers from the Middle East and Africa mainly made use of the European route from Libya to Italy or the eastern route from Turkey to Greece. But now that the European Union has agreements with both Turkey and Libya about keeping asylum seekers there, more and more people are making use of the route from Turkey by boat or plane to Northern Cyprus, which is occupied by Turkey. From there the asylum seekers pay to pass through the buffer zone across the border to the south. 

According to the Cypriot Ministry of Interior, there are 15 thousand asylum seekers on the island whose asylum procedures have been completed. Another 15 thousand are still waiting. Around a thousand new asylum seekers cross the border every month. "We already passed the number of 2018", Petrides said to NOS. "Cyprus was not prepared for this. We are a small island where our own refugee crisis of 1974 has not even been completely resolved. Now the new growth is already more than 4 percent of the population."

"Cyprus cannot handle this alone", Petrides said. "Even sending people back is almost impossible for us as a small individual country. Iraq, for example, refuses to take people back. As the EU, you can make a fist."

Last year the EU countries made a start on creating an asylum seeker redistribution mechanism, to ensure that all EU countries care for a fair share of asylum seekers. But according to the Cypriot Minister, the island can no longer wait or this mechanism to eventually be implemented. So this week he will be sending a letter to the European Commission, as well as to a number of individual countries. He will ask the Netherlands to voluntarily take in some asylum seekers. "Out of solidarity with Cyprus, but also to protect the people involved. Because it can't go on like this", he said to the broadcaster.

Petrides estimates based on the redistribution mechanism that the Netherlands has to take in some 5 thousand asylum seekers currently on the island. The other about 25 thousand people have to be distributed among the other EU countries, he believes.