Cyprus considers that Syria’s status needs to be reassessed so that returns and deportations can take place to that country, as stated today by the Minister of Interior, Constantinos Ioannou, following his meeting with a delegation of DIKO, led by the party’s President, Nikolas Papadopoulos, on migration, during which there was an update from the Ministry of Interior on the situation on this issue.

Ioannou also said that in a letter to European Commission Vice-President Margaritis Schinas, he raised the need for Lebanon, where an estimated 2.5 million Syrians are located, to receive assistance. «Lebanon is a bulwark. If Lebanon collapses, then all of Europe will be in trouble,» he said.

Replying to journalists’ questions, the ministry said Syria has been under the same regime for 11 years. We consider as Cyprus and find fertile ground with other member states that the status of Syria must be reassessed,» he added.

He said there are already two areas recognised by the EU Agency for Asylum (EUAA) that are safe areas. «So it must now be recognized at the level of the European Union,» so that those we judge can be deported or we can return people back to Syria, «something that at the moment no country has achieved,» he said.

«We will try to push on that as well. There is fertile ground in other Member States as well. I am planning a trip to Geneva for a meeting with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), which has a role in this issue, so that we can focus our efforts on this part as well,» he noted.

Mr. Ioannou said that during the meeting with DIKO, they briefed on migration, which is a complex problem with many dimensions and without easy solutions. «We as a government have a specific plan, a specific strategy. We are already seeing the first results,» he said.

He added that «there is cautious optimism», noting that they have managed both due to external factors and specific measures «to reduce by 50% arrivals and irregular flows of migrants. We have managed to increase returns by 50% from 3200 to 4700, whether they are voluntary returns, which we have invested heavily in this part, or forced, i.e. deportations,» he said.

«We are upgrading the infrastructure. We have doubled the number of examiners (for asylum applications) – which was also a pre-election commitment of President Christodoulides. At the moment, the examination time has been reduced from nine months to three months,» he said.

He said that «the aim is to reduce the economic benefits that any asylum seeker can have, so as to make Cyprus an unattractive destination.»

«For example, when his application is rejected in three months, benefits stop, the right to work stops. So it is an incentive for the now illegal asylum seeker to leave Cyprus,» he said.

Mr. Ioannou stressed that we must be cautious regarding migration. We also depend on external factors. You see what has been happening in Italy over the last few days. Seven thousand migrants in 24 hours. There is already an increase in migratory flows to Greece and other countries. We have the issue with neighbouring countries like Syria or Lebanon,» he said.

For Syrians, he said that because of the special status we cannot reject applications or carry out deportations and there is a specific problem that is not easy to deal with.

«But we are moving forward. We are ready. Some problems have also been raised. DIKO will also take some initiatives to help resolve these issues that concern temporary detention centers. And it is important to proceed with the adoption of the Deputy Ministry, which will now have all the advantages of dealing with migration,» he noted.

Asked if flows from Syria to Lebanon had increased, the ministry said there was an increase. He said that after his trip to Lebanon «we have strengthened the already good relationship that existed between the two countries. We exchange information.»

For example, yesterday we were informed that another boat with 50 people on board had been cut off. So we see some coming, but an effort is being made by Lebanon, because of the very good cooperation we have developed, and many boats are being cut off from coming to Cyprus, he added.

As he said, «the information we have from the Lebanese authorities is that there is an increase in Syrians going to Lebanon,» noting that there are currently estimated to be 2.5 million. Syrians in Lebanon. «That is why, in a letter to Margaritis Schinas, I have stressed that Lebanon must be helped, because Lebanon is a bulwark. If Lebanon collapses, then all of Europe will be in trouble,» he added.

Asked about the action plan for the Eastern Mediterranean, he said that some provisions are already being informally implemented and the information they have from the Permanent Representation of Cyprus in Brussels is that at the end of October at the next Council of Ministers it will be submitted for approval.

President DIKO

On his part, the DIKO President said that migration is a big, serious, real problem, one of the most serious that the Cypriot state has to face with knock-on economic and social consequences, especially in communities that have to host a large number of migrants.

«Unfortunately, the scenes of organized violence and intimidation we have experienced in the past days outrage and shock Cypriot society and shame us internationally. Alas if the outcome of Cypriot society is that this problem will be resolved by force,» he said.

He stressed that «violence is not the solution to this problem. The solution to this problem is to implement sound and effective policies. That is why we want to welcome the initiatives of the Ministry of Interior for the management of migration, the measures taken in these first six months of Nikos Christodoulides’ government have already brought concrete results,» he said.

He added that «deportations and returns of asylum seekers have increased by 50%. The processing time for applications has been reduced to 3 months. For the first time in the migration process, more asylum seekers are leaving than coming to our country. Data show that the proportion of asylum seekers in our population has fallen from almost 6% to close to 5%.»

He also noted that «the policy of deportations and returns has succeeded and in our view this policy must continue, it must be strengthened with the creation of the Deputy Ministry of Migration, which is one of the priorities of the government of Nikos Christodoulides. We call on all political forces to work together to examine and vote on the relevant bill in the House of Representatives so that the Deputy Ministry of Migration can be created as soon as possible.»

Mr. Papadopoulos thanked the Minister of Interior for the briefing but mainly, as he said, for the policies implemented by the Ministry and bringing results.

Asked if they submitted any proposal to the Minister on migration, he said that «we are ready to work together to promote the bills already submitted by the Ministry of Interior and we believe that the creation of a Deputy Ministry of Migration will strengthen and help in the policy of returns and deportations.»

«In addition, we have listened to the problems and needs presented by the infrastructure to deal with the big problem of migration and we are ready to help so that as soon as possible the number of accommodation spaces, temporary accommodation spaces and the permanent infrastructure that our country needs to have to deal with this problem will be increased as soon as possible.»