European Commission Vice-President Margaritis Schinas on Saturday called on Turkey and the Turkish Cypriot government to do more to stem the arrival of migrants to the ethnically divided Mediterranean island.
After a visit to a modernized migrant center outside the capital, Nicosia, Schinas said Brussels “will not let the Turkish Cypriot community see themselves as neutral to what is happening”.
His remarks come amid a sharp rise in the number of asylum seekers arriving in Cyprus, and most are arriving in the breakaway northern half of the island.
“They [the Turkish-Cypriot government] must also take their share of responsibility and we will find a way to remind them,” Schinas said, adding that Brussels will hold talks next month with Cyprus to explore the best ways to handle the issue.
Schinas added that Brussels will help the Cypriot authorities to deter crossings between north and south.
Turkey ‘ready to help’
He also said that Turkey has demonstrated its willingness to help reduce the number of migrants arriving in Cyprus and referred to multiple discussions with Turkish airlines, as many migrants use the carriers to get to northern Cyprus. .
Cyprus was split in two in 1974 when Turkey invaded the island following a coup aimed at union with Greece.
The two sides are divided by a 180 kilometer (120 mile) long UN buffer zone.
Only Turkey recognizes the Turkish Cypriot government in the north, while the Greek Cypriot government in the south is recognized by the international community.
Although all of Cyprus is part of the EU, membership privileges are suspended in the Republic of Northern Cyprus due to lack of recognition by Brussels.
How do most migrants arrive in Cyprus?
The Cypriot government says around 90% of migrants enter via Turkey and the breakaway Turkish Cypriot north via a loosely regulated student visa system.
Thousands of people then crossed the UN buffer zone to seek asylum in southern Greek Cypriot.
Many of them are then detained at the Pournara migrant camp, which suffered from overcrowding before modernization.
Nicosia says around 10,000 people have applied for asylum in the south in the first five months of the year, double compared to the same period in 2021.
Asylum seekers now make up around 5% of Cyprus’s population of 915,000 in the south, a record figure for the whole of the EU.
Interior Minister Nicos Nouris said Cyprus was working with Brussels to speed up the return of rejected asylum seekers, but needed additional EU funds to build a new migrant reception centre.
The planned installation in Menoyia, near Larnaca, is expected to cost 72 million euros ($75.6 million).
Cyprus has so far returned some 3,000 rejected asylum seekers, Schinas said.
With material from The Associated Press