NICOSIA, Cyprus (AP) — Cyprus is launching a multilingual SMS campaign to head off more migrant arrivals by dispelling the mistaken belief the European Union member country is a gateway to the continent, the Cypriot interior minister said Sunday
Nicos Nouris told the Associated Press the text-message blitz aims to counter “disinformation” propagated by people traffickers that securing asylum status in Cyprus will grant would-be migrants a “passport” to other EU countries.
Nouris said arriving migrants are effectively “trapped” in Cyprus because the island nation isn’t part of the Schengen area — those 26 European nations that have abolished their borders and permit unrestricted travel between them.
The minister said Cyprus, with a population of roughly 880,000, has “by a wide margin” the largest number of migrants relative to its population in the 27-member bloc.
He said 3.8% of those living on Cyprus are asylum seekers, while that number is under 1% in other front-line EU states, like Greece, Italy, Spain and Malta.
It’s estimated that 25-30% of all migrants currently in Cyprus are refugees fleeing conflict.
According Asylum Service Statistics, Syrians filled the most asylum applications last year, followed by people from Georgia, India, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Cameroon, Vietnam, Egypt, Nigeria and Sri Lanka.
Nouris had previously said that most migrants arrive to ethnically divided Cyprus’ breakaway north and cross a United Nations-controlled buffer zone to seek asylum in the internationally recognized south.
Meanwhile, Nouris said around 700 migrants will remain confined to a reception center on the outskirts of the capital Nicosia until a small scabies infestation there is completely eliminated.
The minister said he expects confinement measures to be lifted “soon” after all those with scabies have been treated.
The migrants were confined to the center since late March when the government enacted a strict, stay-at-home order to prevent the spread of the coronavirus. Those restrictions were lifted May 23, but the migrants weren’t allowed to leave the center.