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09-01-2024 15:32

Statement of the Minister of Interior, Mr Constantinos Ioannou, following the meeting with the EU Commissioner for Home Affairs, Mrs Ylva Johansson

Firstly, allow me, Commissioner Johansson, to warmly welcome you to Cyprus and express my gratitude and appreciation to you personally and the Commission for all your help and support.

Today’s meeting was very constructive. We had the opportunity to review Cyprus’ actions for a coherent and holistic response to the challenge of migration.

Cyprus, an island and non-Schengen country, is facing the greatest migration problem amongst the EU member states. Specifically, 5.5% of the population, four times higher than the EU average, are new asylum applicants or international protection holders.

I informed the Commissioner about our new approach during the last ten months and most specifically the implementation of a four-pillar policy, which includes reducing the arrivals, upgrading the infrastructure, accelerating the application procedures and increasing the returns.

During this period, we have doubled the number of case examiners, thus succeeding to mitigate the time needed for a case to be concluded, we have increased the number of decisions and limited the access to labor market.

In addition to these, we have been intensively promoting the voluntary return program with financial incentives, which led to a significant increase in the number of voluntary returns.

These measures have resulted in the decrease in the number of arrivals and applications. As data show, there was a swift in the trend regarding the arrivals of migrants in comparison to 2022. Specifically, in 2023 the total number of arrivals and applications dropped by 50% in comparison to 2022, while the number of arrivals of migrants from African countries, through the Green Line, was reduced by 60%.

For the first time, we have a positive rate in terms of people leaving Cyprus in comparison to the ones arriving to the island. The fact that during 2023 we had a 116% return-arrival rate is remarkable, especially taking into consideration the situation in the rest of Europe.

These results come as a culmination of the very good work by Cyprus Authorities and the constant support and collaboration with the Commission. We are very satisfied by the financial and technical support received so far, and we want this to continue in order to be able to address this challenge effectively.

In the same context, I expressed my satisfaction on the conclusion of the Action Plan on Eastern Mediterranean as it is considered an important tool in the field of external dimension of migration. From the very start of its implementation, we have so far seen an important decrease in the numbers of migrants arriving from Turkey and therefore, we are confident that its full implementation will produce more tangible results.

We also had the chance to discuss the matter of integration, as we feel that substantial integration goes hand-in-hand with the reduction of the number of arrivals. For that matter, two separate strategies are being prepared and will be implemented within 2024. Both strategies are part of our comprehensive policy for providing a better support environment for people in need, in terms of education, health, housing and work opportunities.

Finally, I conveyed Cyprus’ great concern as regards the unprecedently large migration flows arriving from Syria. Cyprus, as a front-line member state, is called to manage a great number of international protection holders.

Due to its geographical proximity to Syria, Cyprus is exposed to disproportionately large numbers of illegal migrants arriving from the area, which puts pressure in our reception system. In this regard, I have reiterated our position that the time has come to, collectively, open the discussion for the re-evaluation of the state of affairs of Syria or at least specific areas in the country, and, subsequently, the protection status of the Syrians. We must reconsider the overall situation, based on existing realities and find what is the most balanced way to handle this matter, having in mind the geopolitical developments in the area of Eastern Mediterranean.

Commissioner Johansson,

Cyprus considers migration management as one of its top priorities. We feel that during the last ten months we have established a very close and honest cooperation with the Commission. Allow me to convey our gratitude to the Commission and yourself, personally, for supporting and promoting Cyprus’ requests.

Let me, once again, before giving the floor to you, reaffirm our commitment to work together with you for addressing the challenges that lay ahead of us.