EU border agency could help Cyprus stem migrant arrivals

NICOSIA, Cyprus (AP) — The European Union’s executive chief says she’s looking at ways to offer “more support” to Cyprus from the bloc’s border agency Frontex to stem the flow of migrants to the eastern Mediterranean island nation from nearby countries including Turkey.

Visiting European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen on Thursday offered no specifics on how Frontex could help but said that the EU’s European Asylum Support Office could step up its efforts to help Cyprus expedite asylum applications.

Cypriot officials say the country is stretched to its limits and can hardly cope as the number of migrants and refugees who have either received or applied for international protection in Cyprus now amounts to 4% of the country’s population.

EU figures show that the vast majority of the 4 437 migrants who reached Cyprus so far this year crossed a United Nations-controlled buffer zone into the ethnically split country’s internationally recognized Greek Cypriot south from the breakaway, Turkish Cypriot north. The number of arrivals represents a 30% increase from the same period last year.

Most migrants fly from Turkey to Cyprus’ north before crossing southward.

Cyprus was split along ethnic lines in 1974 when Turkey invaded after a coup aimed at union with Greece. Only Turkey recognizes a Turkish Cypriot declaration of independence and maintains more than 35,000 troops in the north.

Cyprus has formally asked Frontex to help prevent migrant arrivals from Turkey and has also asked the European Commission to help relocate to other EU countries a “significant number” of people from war-torn Syria who have been granted international protection.

The Cypriot government says Turkey has ignored the island in implementing its 2016 deal with the EU to stop migrant flows into the bloc.

Von der Leyen said the EU is currently negotiating a new migration deal with Turkey that will include a clause sending back failed asylum seekers.

EU leaders last month approved to give Turkey another 3 billion euros ($3.6 billion) over the next few years to provide fresh assistance to Syrian refugees on its territory and to help the country boost border controls.

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