NICOSIA (Rahnuma): A sharp increase in the number of undocumented immigrants arriving in Cyprus so far this year has led to serious problems in providing shelter and services, an official source at the interior ministry said Monday.
The source said 2,886 immigrants arrived up to the end of June, an increase of about 40 percent in the first six months of 2018 relative to the first half last year.
Projections put refugee arrivals by the end of the year to about 5,774, relative to 4,500 in 2017, an increase of 53 percent over the previous year
Taking into consideration the population of Cyprus, which is just over one million, it is the equivalent of 470,000 migrants arriving in Germany, whose population is 82 million, said the source, making it the largest rate of immigrant arrivals in any European country.
The figures were confirmed by an official of the United Nations High Commission for Refugees in Cyprus.
“The number of immigrants who arrive in Cyprus started going up in 2017, probably as a result of the intensification of fighting in Syria, from where most of the refugees come,” said the UN’s Emilia Strovolidou.
The inflow of refugees is straining the resources of Cyprus, as the country is bound by European Union (EU) directives to provide shelter and minimum grants to refugees, which are in line with social handouts to local people.
This has led to resentment among the local population, who complain they are at a disadvantage relative to the refugees, who receive larger sums in grants as a result of having larger families.
Cypriot authorities said the biggest inflow of refugees is through the part of Cyprus that has been occupied by Turkish troops since 1974, in reaction to a coup by the military rulers of Greece at the time.
Whereas most of the refugees originally arrived in Cyprus by boats provided by people traffickers in Turkey, since 2017 the biggest number of arrivals was through the occupied part.
People arrive to the island by plane of ship and then are helped by local traffickers over the buffer zone, which extends to 185 km from east to the northwest.
The Green Line, as the buffer zone is known, is poorly policed by an understaffed United Nations Peacekeeping force. Groups of refugees are frequently found moving on foot close to the dividing line.
The first thing they do upon arriving in the government-controlled areas is to visit the nearest police station and seek asylum.
The Cypriot government recently set up a ministerial committee to recommend measures to deal with the influx of refugees.
The committee also mandated Cypriot foreign minister to discuss the issue with EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini to ask for a larger measure of solidarity from other EU countries in accepting refugees who arrive in Cyprus.
The Cyprus interior minister was also instructed to meet with EU immigration commissioner Dimitris Avramopoulos to ask for more economic assistance.
Meanwhile, the government decided to revamp the system of examining asylum petitions to quicken the process.