Cyprus ranks 1st in the EU in percentage of returns on arrivals – 526 residents of Pournara
Information of the Council of Ministersregarding the results so far of the measures that have been implemented in the last 11 months in relation to immigration, the Minister of the Interior Mr. Konstantinos Ioannou spoke today.
In his statements after the end of the session of the Council of Ministers, Mr. Ioannou stated: “Through a holistic approach that focuses on four axes, we were able to reverse the negative image presented by our country and we now record a positive balance. Despite the volatile external factors that may affect immigration data, in 2023 Cyprus has achieved a 46% reduction in irregular immigrant applications and at the same time a 66% increase in returns. A significant decrease of 72% was also recorded in the number of new asylum seekers from African countries and by 59% in the number of arrivals via the Green Line. Detailed information will be sent to you later.
Following the encouraging results of 2023, January 2024 recorded an equally positive sign. Specifically, within January, 782 persons arrived in Cyprus, the vast majority of them by sea (647 persons, 83%). At the same time, the highest number of people leaving the country was recorded, amounting to 1,081 people, who either chose the voluntary return program or the relocation mechanism or were deported.
According to January 2024 data, the percentage of departures over arrivals amounted to 138%. At a time when the rest of the member states of the European Union record a much lower rate of returns on arrivals -some of the order of 1%-, Cyprus, with the targeted policies it implemented, ranks first at the EU level in the rate of departures on arrivals and in fourth place in absolute numbers of returns and expulsions.
In addition, I should mention that currently the residents of Pournara are around 526, which is the lowest number of residents in many years.
For these encouraging results, we received credit from Commissioner Johansson, who called on other countries to follow the example of Cyprus, as well as from our European partners and officials from the competent Migration Agencies, such as UNHCR and EUAA.
At the same time, however, the increased arrivals by sea are causing particular concern. Within 2023, we had a 355% increase in irregular migrant arrivals via sea routes, the vast majority of whom are of Syrian origin. It is a tragic fact that these people are promoted from Syria and Lebanon by migrant smuggling rings. For this reason, our goal in the future is to strengthen the effort to combat traffickers' networks and better surveillance of Lebanon's coasts.
The issue was discussed at length during Commissioner Johansson's recent visit, in which I conveyed the need for the European Commission to take more active action in the effort to better and more effectively deal with trafficking rings. It was agreed that Europol should be more involved, as is also foreseen in the Action Plan for the Eastern Mediterranean. At the national level, we have proceeded to set up an echelon in collaboration with the Foreigners and Immigration Service of the Cyprus Police, so that there is coordination and enhanced operational capability.
Finally, I remind you of the initiative taken by the Cypriot Government since last summerfor the reassessment of the status of Syria, based on the actual data prevailing in the country at the given time and following the assessment made by the de facto European Organization for Migration, the European Asylum Organization, according to which two areas of Syria are considered safe. By April, the new evaluation plan by the Organization is completed. A possible outcome at the European level in defining specific areas in the country as safe, will allow the promotion of the return of Syrian nationals to them, under strict conditions, which will ensure their protection.
Furthermore, as it has recently announced, within 2024our aim is to process asylum applications within 30 days, which is mostly already in place, to reinforce the Return Office with additional staff to further strengthen returns and to crack down on smugglers.
Finally, I would like to reiterate that immigration is a volatile issue, affected by various external factors. Hence vigilance and preparedness is required at all levels. The establishment of the Deputy Ministry of Immigration, which is expected to be voted on next week, will undoubtedly help in this direction. The concentration of immigration-related responsibilities under the umbrella of a Deputy Ministry is essential to maintain the positive results and improve them further”.
, Mr. Ioannou explained that with Ms. Johansson it was agreed to essentially set up a tripartite group, with members of Europol and Interpol, the Cyprus Police and the Lebanese Authorities, so that we could get better results. As the Minister of the Interior said, the involvement of Europol gives more weight to the whole effort.
In response to the question whether the initiative of the Republic of Cyprus to re-evaluate the status of Syria finds suitable ground at the EU level, the Minister responded positively, noting that in private meetings with his counterparts, “the majority accepts and admits the fact that something must be done to re-evaluate. There are still some reactions from some countries that have a weighty opinion, so the climate, in short, is positive. Important for us is the evaluation by the European Asylum Organization, which will be ready next April. Any conclusion that indeed some areas should be recognized as safe, will be a catalyst for the decisions the EU will make”.