Cyprus appealed Wednesday to the EU to offer it more help with illegal migrants, warning it would be unable to cope if the influx of arrivals continues to its shores.
The European Union’s easternmost state held an emergency ministerial meeting to address the issue after more than 140 migrants reached the island in the past four days alone.
“There will be a round of contacts with our European counterparts, especially from Mediterranean countries, facing the same problem, so there is better coordination of actions at European level where we demand European solidarity,” said Cypriot interior minister Constantinos Petrides.
He said EU immigration policy should not place a “disproportionate burden” on front-line states or small members like Cyprus “that cannot develop structures... to absorb these flows”.
Cyprus, in proportion to its population, says it faces one of the most serious problems of migratory flows compared with other countries.
“And if they continue to increase, these numbers will no longer be manageable,” Petrides told reporters after the ministerial meeting.
He said according to EU statistics for 2018, Cyprus was first in terms of population-related asylum claims at more than 5,000 per million population.
Cyprus had received 4,022 asylum requests in the first eight months of 2018, which was 55 per cent more than for the same period last year, said Petrides.
And in 2017, the increase was 56 per cent compared with the year before that, he added.
“Migration is a European issue that no country can handle by itself, and solidarity should be translated not only in financial resources but involve the automatic repatriation mechanism,” said Petrides.
Nicosia is looking to broker a repatriation agreement with Lebanon as there had been migrant flows recently from that country, the minister said.
Among other measures, Cypriot ministers agreed to step up sea patrols, enforce repatriation agreements and speed up the asylum process to make sure the non-entitled get sent back
On the other hand, it will be made easier for asylum applicants to find work.
Petrides said most asylum seekers in Cyprus were Syrians, who numbered 860. The rest were mainly from India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Egypt and Iraq.
“It is a matter of concern to us... since 2008, refugee status has been granted to 1,090 people and the status of supplementary protection to 6,784 people, while 7,406 applicants are pending.”
The comments come after Cypriot marine police said they intercepted and escorted 36 Syrian migrants ashore on Monday.
Cyprus, which is located 160 kilometres (100 miles) from the coast of war-torn Syria, has not seen the massive inflow of migrants experienced by Turkey and Greece.
The UN refugee agency has estimated that at least 2,000 migrants came to Cyprus in 40-odd boat trips since 2015.