The European migrant crisis is often associated with Germany, France and Italy, but there’s one location that’s often overlooked: Cyprus.
According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), the island of Cyprus has been seeing an influx of asylum seekers and migrants in the last couple of years. This is stretching the country’s reception system and creating overcrowding.
The country’s reception centres are filling up, leaving an increasing number of asylum seekers on the street. And the issue is only getting worse.
But what makes this situation more complicated has to do with the island’s unique political history.
Cyprus has been divided since 1974, after Turkey invaded the northern third of the island in response to a military coup. This means that portion of the country is run by a Turkish Cypriot government, while the southern part of Cyprus, known as the Republic of Cyprus, is led by Greek Cypriots.
Global News spoke to Liz Throssell, the global spokesperson for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).
“What we are seeing is that there are people who arrive in the northern part of Cyprus,” Throssell said. “They are then coming into areas of the Republic of Cyprus (southern part of Cyprus). And what we see there is that that is due to the lack of access to asylum in the northern part of Cyprus…they’re seeking protection in the Republic of Cyprus.”
According to Politico, a European nonpartisan politics and policy news organization, there are several reasons for this influx of asylum seekers in Cyprus. The Cypriot interior minister, Constantinos Petrides, puts some of the blame on Turkey for refusing to co-operate with authorities, exploiting Cyprus’ unique geopolitical situation and facilitating migrant’s journeys.
WATCH: (Aug. 10, 2019) Statistics reveal spike in asylum seeker border crossings
Some NGOs and organizations, meanwhile, feel the influx of asylum seekers and the backlog of asylum applications are due to the lack of avenues available for individuals to legally extend their stay in Cyprus.
Being located just west of Syria, the country is seeing large numbers of Syrian refugees arrive, says Throssell. But the country is also seeing an increasing number of individuals fleeing from Cameroon’s anglophone regions who are escaping conflicts, according to the UNHCR.
Many individuals have been tricked by smugglers, who reportedly claim they can get them to Italy or Germany, only to drop them off in Cyprus.
“In some cases, people are having to wait between three to five years for a final decision on whether they’re going to get the asylum,” Throssell said. “It’s all down to the lack of capacity — the fact that there isn’t the capacity to process this file load sufficiently quickly, thereby it creates a backlog.
“What we would say is it’s also very important that people are really assessed so that we can identify those that really do need protection. They really do have protection needs so that they can be given the support that they require.”
Aid organizations are hoping to see changes made to policy when it comes to asylum seekers to ensure a faster process but are concerned if dramatic steps aren’t taken quickly, the crisis will only get worse.