Let’s Tune In To The EU’S Periphery: Cyprus Creates Strategy To Confront Migrant Crisis

Nicholas Zalewski
Migrants arrive at UK RAF base on Cyprus. Source: BBC

One of the European Union’s smallest member states is struggling to cope with the migrant crisis. The member state is unique as it is the only member state completely located east of Istanbul.  This island nation has had the highest proportion of asylum seekers compared to its population of any EU member state for the last six years. In order to stop the flow of asylum seekers to Cyprus, the government is launching a social media campaign in order for migrants to understand the realities of trying to claim asylum in Cyprus. As of February 2023, 6 percent of Cyprus’s current population is migrants filing for asylum.

Social Media Campaign

The name of the campaign is “Let’s Talk About Cyprus” and is aimed primarily at nations in Sub-Saharan Africa. 96 percent of migrants from these nations have their asylum claims rejected in Cyprus. As a result, they are banned from not only Cyprus but from the rest of the European Union for five years. The government is also interested in conducting this campaign to combat misinformation that they believe traffickers are telling migrants. The Interior Minister of Cyprus, Constantinos Ioannou, “Traffickers wrongly portray Cyprus as an interim stop for an onward journey to Europe, ignoring the fact that its an island,”. Given how high the denial rate of asylum applications is, this campaign may work to dissuade people from trying due to how expensive it can me to pay smugglers to attempt the difficult journey. Application applications also are slowly processed with 29,725 applications pending as of December 2022 and 6,805 applications which appealed their rejections. At the same time, only 568 asylum requests were granted during 2022.

The United Nations Buffer Zone which migrants use to cross from Northern Cyprus Into Cyprus Source: Max Cortesi/ Atlas Obscura

A Divided Nation

The island nation has been divided since 1974 when Turkey started to occupy Northern Cyprus, the northern one third of the island. No other nation recognizes Northern Cyprus as an independent nation except for Turkey. Northern Cyprus and Cyprus are separated by a buffer zone which is not heavily guarded in some sections and allows migrants to slip in. The buffer zone itself is 112 miles across the island and in some sections is only a couple feet wide. It is particularly noticeable in Nicosia, the Cypriot capital as streets that run north and south will end suddenly or have passport check points. The Cypriot government estimates that 95 percent of migrants arrive through the buffer zone. Many migrants arrive in Northern Cyprus on student visas to study in the Turkish-occupied part of the island yet then cross the border in order to claim asylum in Cyprus. This has been a major struggle for the nation as Cyprus wants to unify the nation under one government, but this still remains an elusive objective for the time being. 

Unfortunately, Northern Cyprus is unlikely to crack down on the abuse of student visas due to its economy depending heavily on higher education. Almost half of the 108,000 students enrolled in universities in Northern Cyprus in 2022 were foreigners. Northern Cyprus is a significantly weaker economy than Cyprus and universities make up a third of the territory’s economy. The average tuition for a university is only $3,000 which explains why it attracts so many students despite the fact that the universities are not globally recognized as legitimate universities. Students have complained about the universities and feel they were lied to by recruiters who misrepresented Northern Cyprus. Some students will have stated that they arrived in Northern Cyprus only for their selected course of study to suddenly be unavailable which they suspect may have never actually existed in the first place. Recruiters are paid $1,000 for each student they recruit to attend a university in Northern Cyprus which serves as an incentive to not be completely honest with potential students. Due to a lack of economic opportunities, the job is very desirable to do the high pay out per student and continues to attract more students.

Map of Schengen Area countries. Source: ETIAS

Schengen Area

What may partially be causing the high portion of asylum seekers is the issue of Cyprus not yet being a member of the Schengen Area. As the Schengen Area does not have national border checks within the Area, this makes it easy for people to travel through various nations. As Cyprus is not a member however, this means migrants can not easily pass to other member states as their documents will be checked before traveling to any other Schengen Area nation. When migrants arrive to Spain and Italy, it is possible to attempt to continue on to other EU nations part of the Schengen Area while Cyprus is essentially a dead end. Cyprus is not yet part of the Schengen Area due to the ongoing dispute with Northern Cyprus which leaves Cyprus with an unsecure border. All member nations of the Schengen Area must vote unanimously to allow another nation to join which means Cyprus will have to solve the conflict to avoid a current member to reject their request. The island has effectively been divided for 49 years however and there is no end to the conflict in sight between Cyprus and Northern Cyprus.

Unfortunately for migrants, crossing to Cyprus from Northern Cyprus does not allow them to move on to other EU member states and Cyprus continues to be burdened with more migrants per capita than other Eu member states. The EU’s new Pact on Migration and Asylum may help Cyprus by resettling migrants attempting to file for asylum in other member states instead of allowing Cyprus and other Southern EU member states like Italy Greece, and Spain shoulder a majority of the burden. Hopefully for migrants this means the time for their asylum requests will decrease and they will have a decision sooner rather than being left in limbo. 

Please Read The Following For More Information:

“Statement on the political agreement on the New Pact on Migration and Asylum” European Commission 9 June 2023

“Cyprus unveils campaign to counter spike in asylum seekers” Reuters 6 June 2023

Sanderson, Sertan “How universities on Cyprus have joined the human trafficking game” Infomigrants 25 November 2022

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  1. Pingback: Let’s Tune In To The EU’s Periphery: 60 Years Of A Divided Cyprus - The New Global Order

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Let’s Tune In To The EU…

by Nicholas Zalewski time to read: 4 min