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12-09-2019 13:32

Address by the Minister of Interior, Mr Constantinos Petrides, at the Conference of the Red Cross Small European National Societies (SENS 2019)

It is truly an honor to join you here this morning for the opening of the 5th Conference of the Red Cross Small European National Societies and I am delighted to welcome you all to Cyprus.

The Government of Cyprus has traditionally strong ties with the Cyprus Red Cross Society, going back to the events of the 1974 Turkish invasion of Cyprus and the consequent division of the island. The Cyprus Red Cross Society, by applying the fundamental principles of Humanity, Impartiality, Neutrality, Independence, Voluntary Service, Unity and Universality, has played a significant role in the prevention and relief of human pain and the appropriate management of emergency situations, in times of peace or war, without discrimination in terms of gender, age, social class, religion or political beliefs.

These ties have developed through the years into a strong partnership in many areas, such as the management of the refugee crisis affecting Cyprus in the recent years. In an era where the wider region is beset by political instability, and hence, migration is the only hope for a better future for millions of persons, Cyprus is at the front line of the migration flows.

Cyprus, a small country at the European border of a region beset by political instability and conflicts, has been at the frontline of massive migration flows. Being ourselves a divided country with more than a third of its population being internally and violently displaced due to the Turkish invasion, we consider the adequate reception and hosting of refugees and migrants arriving in Cyprus, as our obligation and moral duty towards every affected fellow human being.

I should mention that only in 2017 the increase in asylum applications, in comparison to 2016, was over 50%. In the same trend, 2018 demonstrated a further sharp increase in migratory flows of 69%. The alarming trend continues in 2019, where until July, a total of 7812 new applicants were registered in Cyprus, demonstrating an unprecedented increase of over 130% in comparison to the already high influx of 2018. According to the available data of Eurostat and EASO, for the third year in a row, Cyprus remains the top receiving member state per capita.

The geographical proximity to a number of politically and socially unstable countries, the inability to effectively control the occupied areas of the island due to the illegal occupation, the lack of cooperation on behalf of Turkey, as well as the failure of the EU to manage effectively and holistically the migration issue, are among the main reasons that have led to this extremely challenging situation.

The citizens of Syria remain the top nationality in asylum applications in 2019. Nevertheless, new alarming trends are emerging, such as the significant influx of citizens of Georgia, as well as of India, Cameroon, Nigeria and Bangladesh.

Despite the ongoing efforts put forward by the Republic of Cyprus, the situation continues to deteriorate, leading to a complete overload of the social and economic structures of the island.

The asylum procedures in Cyprus are in alignment with the EU acquis and in conformity with the country’s international obligation, in order to provide protection to those who have genuine fear of persecution in their countries of origin. In addition, the European legal framework is our framework in establishing efficient and effective procedures in order to examine the asylum applications in a timely, fair and effective manner, as well as in providing appropriate reception conditions until a final decision is reached on their asylum claim.

The measures taken towards the adoption of a fair and effective asylum procedure, aim to ensure that all asylum applications are processed within a short period of time and treated in a fair way, safeguarding the principle of “non-refoulement”, and that no person will return to a country where he/she has a valid fear of persecution.

Our goal is to continuously improve our procedures, and I admit that despite out continuous efforts and because of the continually rising numbers, we still have a lot of work to do in improving the asylum system in order to be more effective in granting protection fast to those who really need it, while at the same time, in preventing the increasing abuse of the asylum system from economic migrants, which is a factor that makes the system less efficient for those who are in real need of protection.

It is towards this end that we are working closely and according to a commonly agreed action plan with the European Commission and EASO, and we are glad in having an EU expert placed to Cyprus as of this month.  

Of course in order to be effective, a holistic reform of the European Asylum system is urgently needed. Including a reform of the Dublin Regulation. Something that has been proved impossible during the intensive debates in the past four years at the EU.

I do aspire that the new European Commission will present approaches that would achieve the necessary consensus at EU level in order to have a truly European policy and fair burden sharing amongst EU member states.

Ladies and gentlemen,

Under these circumstances and facing the enormous challenges of irregular migration, the role of the Red Cross has extremely important, as well as that of a number of non-governmental organisations. We couldn’t have coped as well without your contribution, dedication, and hard work.

The Government and the Red Cross Cyprus are cooperating in projects co-funded by the EU and the Republic of Cyprus.

The example of the Reception and Accommodation Centre for Applicants of International Protection in Kofinou, where an office of volunteers has been established and operates with a decision of the Ministerial Council, is considered to be a best practice, focusing on the human factor, on sharing information and strengthening mutual trust and awareness.

In the Kofinou Centre, the Cyprus Red Cross is involved in a project which involves “Activity Programs for the residents of the Centre. This project started its implementation by the end of 2016 and will continue until the end of 2020, with the possibility for a renewal of the financing contract. Through this program, which is actually the implementation of a series of leisure activities for minors and for adults, as well as afternoon homework clubs for school-age children, we aim to improve the residents’ personal and community skills. These activities also contribute towards increasing their self-confidence, facilitating, thus, their integration into the new environment and improving the residents’ living conditions and quality of life. The Cyprus Red Cross Society in collaboration with Enoros Consulting Ltd have designed and will implement these activities based on the assessment of the needs of the beneficiaries.

Another project of utmost importance that we are planning to implement soon with the Cyprus Red Cross as Final Beneficiary, is the creation, operation and management of an Open Reception Centre for Vulnerable Applicants of International Protection. This is a very important project for us, aiming to offer hospitality to vulnerable individuals and improve the reception conditions and services provided.

Furthermore, the role of the Cyprus Red Cross Society has been vital in the efficient operation of the first Reception Centre in Kokkinotrimithia, where the Cyprus Red Cross has a permanent presence and specifically in creating such conditions in this type of reception centre, which first and foremost respect the human dignity and secondly create an environment of efficient cooperation between governmental and non-governmental authorities. 

The Cyprus Red Cross Society has also been a valuable partner in providing humanitarian support to migrants arriving by sea, with the distribution of food and clothes.

The role of the Cyprus Red Cross is clearly defined in the ‘Nafkratis’ Contingency Plan, drafted for the management of mass arrivals of persons to Cyprus, who, upon stating their intention to apply for asylum, are transferred to the first Reception Centre, which also operates as an Emergency Centre for this category of arrivals.

Ladies and gentlemen,

Concluding I would like to congratulate and thank the Cyprus Red Cross, for their dedication, hard work, and their willingness to participate in co-funded projects, under the management of the Ministry of Interior, with the aim to provide support to third-country nationals who have applied for international protection. I wish you every success to your deliberations.

(MG/SCH)