Cyprus seeks joint border patrols off its northern coast
By Gregoris Savva
Nicosia, Apr 28 (CNA) -- Cyprus is making efforts in the European Union for the launching of joint European operations to patrol the Cypriot territorial waters off the island's northern coast in a bid to curb illegal immigration trafficking and asylum seekers, Cypriot Justice and Public Order Minister has said.
In a interview with CNA on the occasion of one year after Cyprus' accession to the European Union (1 May 2004), Theodorou noted that after its accession to the European Union, Cyprus has become a "hot" destination for asylum seekers, adding that the numbers of asylum applications in Cyprus, EU's border in the southeastern part of Mediterranean, has gradually increased to 10,000 putting the island in the first place globally in comparison to its population.
''It is more than obvious that the accession to the EU has created an additional reason for asylum seekers to come to Cyprus,'' he noted.
The Cypriot Minister criticised Turkey for granting visas to citizens of islamic countries, allowing them to travel from Turkey to the areas of Cyprus it has been occupying since 1974 and its zero tolerance for illegal immigration trafficking networks that transfer immigrants to the occupied part of Cyprus. Immediately after illegal entry into the occupied areas, these illegal immigrants cross over to the government-controlled areas seeking political asylum.
''The continuing occupation of the northern part of Cyprus by Turkey consists a vacuum in the control of the Republic's territory and a hole in EU's external borders,'' Theodorou added, noting that an illegal-immigrant-trafficking network was revealed in the occupied areas early in April, leading to the arrest in these areas of 20 people, including so-called ''police officers and civil servants.''
The EU acquis provides for a system that should ''include, in the short term, a clear and workable method for determining the member state responsible for the examination of an asylum application.'' These provisions, as it was stated in the Human Rights Parliamentary Committee, are abused by illegal immigrants who request asylum in an effort to secure their stay on the island.
According to Theodorou, Cyprus is raising this issue on a European level and especially in the European Justice and Home Affairs Council, adding that Cypriot efforts bore fruit, since in the EU common position presented during the recent EU - Turkey Association Council, the EU notes that Turkey should cooperate in combating illegal immigration.
He also noted that after the revealing of the network operating in the occupied areas, illegal immigration and number of asylum seekers seem to be reducing.
''Since we do not believe that Turkey will abide by its obligations, we proposed the launching of joint European operations to patrol the sea area between Cyprus and Turkey'' where networks are reportedly operating, he said.
Theodorou pointed out that after joint extensive operations by Cyprus Port Police vessels and vessels from other European states in the area off Cyprus' southern coast, no illegal activity was recorded.
''Therefore we will insist that these operations should be carried out in the sea area between Cyprus and Turkey,'' Theorodou added.
Noting that this issue is mainly political, Theodorou said that after consultations with the competent European committees, he requested Cyprus' Foreign Minister George Iacovou to convey to his counterparts in Mediterranean EU member-states an appeal to launch joint patrols in the Cypriot territorial waters off its northern coast.
''There is positive response from EU member-states which note that Turkey should also participate in such operations,'' Theodorou added.
According to Theodorou, in a bid to curb asylum seekers, Cyprus also submitted proposals for the creation of a common European fund for the control of the European borders, a proposal which was accepted by Luxembourg, the current EU President, and also by European Justice, Freedom and Security Commissioner Franco Fratini.
''We are talking about a problem with immense economic repercussions both for Cyprus and the Union,'' Theodorou said.
Furthermore, Theodorou added that Cyprus suggested the creation of a sub-agency of the EU border Administration Organisation in the Mediterranean, based in Malta. The main agency is positioned on Poland, in EU's northern border.
As regards to changes in his ministry after Cyprus' accession to the EU, Theodorou said that the transition between the status of a candidate state to that of a member state took place smoothly.
''In certain issues, there is a feeling that the capital of Cyprus has moved to Brussels,'' Theodorou added, noting that for this particular reason ''we, who participate in European Councils, should make our presence even stronger, by participating and making interventions not only on issues that concern Cyprus.''
Theodorou pointed out that his Ministry's main challenge, stemming from EU accession, is with the cooperation of the other member-states' Justice Ministries to transform the EU into a common area of peace, freedom and justice.
''The challenge is big, the work to be bone is huge but our will is there, unrelenting and firm to succeed in creating an area of security, freedom and justice,'', he concluded.