Cyprus unveils new measures to curtail migrant influx

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Migrants walk towards to a refugee camp after they come back from the immigration inside a refugee camp in Kokkinotrimithia outside of Nicosia, Cyprus, Tuesday, March 3, 2020. The government of ethnically divided Cyprus is ramping up measures to stem migrant inflows amid fears of a surge of new arrivals following Turkey's decision to open its borders to those seeking to enter Europe illegally. (AP Photo/Petros Karadjias)

NICOSIA – Cyprus is more than doubling the number of officials vetting asylum applications, shortening application deadlines and fast-tracking deportations as part of a new string of measures aimed at tackling a spike in migrant arrivals, the country’s interior minister said Tuesday.

Unveiling the government’s “action plan” to curtail the migrant influx, Interior Minister Nicos Nouris said asylum-seekers from countries deemed “safe” will see their applications processed within 10 days and will have only three days to appeal an immediate deportation order.

The government of ethnically divided Cyprus says it has the most asylum-seekers relative to its population among all other European Union member states — about 3.8% of its population.

The government accuses Turkey of channeling migrants from the breakaway Turkish Cypriot north to the internationally recognized south to purposely alter the country’s demographic character.

Cyprus was split in 1974 when Turkey invaded after a coup by supporters of union with Greece.

The island nation joined the EU in 2004, but only the south enjoys full membership benefits. Only Turkey recognizes a Turkish Cypriot declaration of independence.

Nouris said stiffer penalties and tougher college enrolment criteria will be enacted to counter the large number of sham marriages.

A larger reception center with a capacity to hold 600 people will also be built to accommodate arrivals until their asylum applications are processed, reducing the need for housing and allowances, Nouris said.

The government will seek EU funds to finance construction of new facilities, cover operating costs and purchase equipment to help with stepped-up monitoring of a 120-mile (nearly 200-kilometer) U.N. controlled buffer zone by police and military personnel.

Up to two thirds of migrant arrivals to the south cross from the north.

Nouris said he would intensify contacts with Europe’s border agency FRONTEX to boost cooperation on deportations and containing migrant arrivals.