Interior Minister Neoclis Sylikiotis Urges EU to Support Members in Asylum Sector
Nicosia, Sep 8 - Cypriot Minister of the Interior Neoclis Sylikiotis has urged the European Union to take the necessary measures to further support its member states whose asylum system is facing an increasing burden.
Such a move, the Minster pointed out, would on one hand provide protection to those who really need it and on the other it would help limit exploitation of the system, which puts at risk the efficient functioning of the entire EU asylum system.
Addressing an EU Ministers' Council on Asylum in Paris, Mr. Sylikiotis said that, according to EU statistics, Cyprus has the highest number of asylum applications among all of the 27 EU member states, in relation to its population.
He said that Cyprus, due to its geographical location, is under great pressure from illegal immigrants from neighboring countries facing financial problems, political instability and armed conflicts.
Mr. Sylikiotis said Cyprus has already signed agreements with other countries to return illegal immigrants to the country of origin and pointed out that the EU must intensify its efforts to encourage other members to sign similar agreements.
The Cypriot Minister made special reference to Turkey, saying it should cooperate with the EU, since many refugees come from that country.
Many illegal immigrants and asylum seekers are filtered through Turkey to Cyprus, via the island’s northern Turkish occupied areas, and to other EU countries, he added.
He said the EU should exert pressure on Turkey, which is a candidate for accession country to cooperate and assume its responsibilities towards the EU member states and the EU as a whole.
Mr. Sylikiotis further noted that Cyprus is under great pressure from illegal immigrants and increasing numbers of asylum seekers, who use Turkish territory to travel to the areas of the island under Turkish occupation since 1974, and subsequently are smuggled to the southern government controlled part of the Republic of Cyprus.
He pointed out that it was obvious that Turkey and the occupation forces are allowing and may even be encouraging this situation.
The Minister said there are some 8,000 asylum applications that are pending before the Cypriot authorities, which relate to approximately 10,000 persons, adding that more applications are filed every year.
During the first half of 2008, he said, about 1,600 new applications were filed, while in 2007 a total of 6,000 applications were filed.
He said this huge volume of applications cause serious delays in examining them, adding that the government is trying to find ways to speed up the process.
Furthermore, he said Cyprus has been through the 1974 Turkish invasion and continues to suffer from the occupation of its northern third and its people have lived the pain of displacement and loss of loved ones and property in their own homeland, and thus are sensitive to the suffering of other people and have shown them solidarity, the most recent case being the crisis in Lebanon.
Mr. Sylikiotis noted that Cyprus has expressed its support to the further promotion of practical cooperation in asylum matters to help achieve a better and more effective implementation of the common European asylum system.
He also said that the creation of a European support bureau would be a significant development.