The European Union could work out ways to stem the flow of migrants from Turkey to Cyprus and other EU nations when it holds high-level talks in Ankara next month, The Associated Press reported on Tuesday, citing a top EU official.
EU Home Affairs Commissioner Ylva Johansson said “it’s not impossible to find a way forward” on preventing migrants from leaving Turkey to reach Cyprus because the number of migrants reaching Cyprus isn’t very large relative to the huge number of refugees Turkey hosts. But she couldn’t say what such a deal would look like.
Johansson said she wanted to learn firsthand the difficulties faced by ethnically divided Cyprus, which she said has the most asylum applications among all EU nations relative to its population. She also visited a migrant reception center on the outskirts of the Cypriot capital of Nicosia.
“We have faced … a lot of challenges in our relations with Turkey. Now we are in a situation where these relations are … better,” Johansson said after talks with Cypriot Interior Minister Nicos Nouris.
Nouris accused Turkey of “systematically and on a daily basis” encouraging migrants arriving in the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (KKTC), a breakaway state recognized only by Turkey, to cross a United Nations buffer zone into the internationally recognized south, where they apply for asylum in an EU nation. Cypriot officials say about 80 percent of migrant arrivals to the south are channeled from the north
The KKTC was founded after Turkish intervention on the island in 1974, which followed a coup by Greek nationalists who sought unification with Greece amid a civil war between Greeks and Turks living on the island.
Nouris said Cyprus is strengthening its marine police to prevent the arrival of smuggling boats full of migrants and is stepping up patrols and electronic surveillance along the southern edges of the buffer zone. He said since the start of the year 7,000 out of 8,500 asylum applications have been rejected but that only 300 people have been repatriated because of an EU-wide policy “weakness.”
Johansson said she has “question marks” about an agreement Cyprus has with Lebanon to send back migrants aboard boats nearing the Cypriot coastline. She said EU regulations stipulate that people can seek asylum at the bloc’s sea borders.
Nouris has said the agreement with Lebanon stands and that the return of migrants to that country will continue.