It is unbelievable, but even if today all illegal aliens voluntarily came to local police stations and surrendered for deportation, they would be released because there are no suitable places to detain them for the three weeks required to prepare their necessary documents.

This follows from what the Minister of Interior, Mr. Constantinos Ioannou, said yesterday before the Ad Hoc parliamentary committee for the study of the demographic problem.

Briefing the MPs, the Interior Minister said, among other things, that foreigners’ applications for international protection are examined within three months, when the benefit and their right to work are terminated, and then asked: What options do they have? Either they leave on their own with about €1000-€1500 that we give them, or they stay illegally. If we arrest them, what should we do to them, given that we do not have places to hold them? Because once their application is rejected, they are illegal. We found old camps and places that could have been set up to detain deported foreigners, but we found that converting them takes about a year to a year and a half, as well as a few million euros.

If we had this place built, the police, who know where the illegal immigrants are, could arrest them. We have no space and we do not arrest them. We practically cannot arrest and deport them at the same time, because we need 2-3 weeks to prepare their papers. If there were a detention facility of 1,000 people every three weeks, we would have deportations and given that 700-800 people arrive in the Republic-controlled areas per month, we could manage the situation much better and we would also send the message that illegals do not have benefits, jobs and generally the prospect of staying in Cyprus, so gradually things would be much better.

He explained that at the moment there is a detention facility for 126 people, which greatly limits the processing of return procedures. He also said that construction of the new pre-removal center, with a capacity of 1,000 people, has begun, which will be completed in two years.

Mr. Ioannou said that the message of repatriation of non-beneficiaries of international protection is also sent through a campaign to control and combat illegal work launched by the Ministry of Labour.

He also said that when the current government took over, there were 30,000 asylum applications pending which also need to be examined. Asked by MPs whether there is a possibility of repatriating Syrians, the interior minister said that although Latakia and Tartus are considered safe city-regions (they were recognized as such by the European Asylum Agency in its annual report), it was not possible to repatriate former residents because the EU considers the whole country to be a war zone. As he explained, Denmark, despite its efforts, did not manage to repatriate a single Syrian.

The Minister referred to a decrease in the total number of flows in the last six months, by 51%. Equally important, he added, «is that the number of returns, of people leaving Cyprus has increased by 50%.»

«Specifically, while last year about 12,000 asylum seekers came, this year around 5,800 have come,» Ioannou said.

Referring to the last five months, the interior minister said that «while returns last year were around 3,200, this year they have increased to 4,700». It is important that for the first time the balance between flows and returns has changed, the Minister stressed, indicating that this happened for the first time in the history of migration in Cyprus.

Referring to the measures taken, he said that the number of applications processed on a monthly basis is 2,000 per month, compared to about 1,000 last year. Commenting on an indirect suggestion by Pafos MP Charalambos Pazaros to recognize the green line as an external border, the Minister indicated that if this happened, the Cyprus problem would be considered solved, since the illegal entity of the occupied areas would be recognized.

oannou also said that Cyprus approached three African countries to accept foreigners in exchange for financial assistance but there was no positive response. At the same time, Cyprus undertook a public information campaign in Congo, Nigeria and Cameroon so that they know the reality in Cyprus and do not create unrealistic expectations about what they will encounter here. This was decided when they examined the content of interviews with foreigners to whom they presented Cyprus as a paradise and convinced them that when they arrived in Cyprus they could board a train and reach Germany.

1,071 unaccompanied minors

Deputy Minister of Social Welfare Marilena Evangelou said that there are 1,071 unaccompanied children and added that they are one of the priorities of her deputy ministry, given that they are the most sensitive part of migration. As he said, these children are hosted in semi-independent structures and state housing, while a small number are hosted in 12 foster families.

The aim of the Deputy Ministry, he said, is to increase the number of Accommodation Structures by creating small structures in the communities, precisely to avoid ghettoization and better integrate children into society.

The Deputy Minister informed the MPs that money is being raised by the European Commission and added that among the priorities is learning the Greek language so that children can attend school. There are relevant programs as well as skills development plans and other actions, he said.

Regarding the various allowances, he said that for food, clothing and footwear, one person receives €186 while when a family consists of five people or more (no matter how many they are) the allowance is €558. For electricity, water, small expenses and provided that a rental contract is presented, one person receives €75 while families with five people or more, €200. Without a rental contract, one person receives €28 and families over five people receive €74.

MPs condemned racist incidents

MPs condemned the racist incidents against foreigners, but some of them did not fail to refer to the need for everyone to respect the law and made reference to the benefits given to foreigners. Some MPs also disagreed with reports of racist behaviour. MP Pavlos Mylonas said that responsibility for migration lies with both the US and the EU, which with their policies led people to poverty and misery, something that prompted them to seek countries with better prospects, something that Cyprus also pays.