Cyprus braces for wave of migrants as Turkey opens borders

Migrants and refugees stand next to a camp in the town of Diavata in northern Greece.
Migrants and refugees stand next to a camp in the town of Diavata in northern Greece. REUTERS/Alexandros Avramidis

Cyprus fears a huge influx of migrants after Ankara allowed refugees to leave for the European Union and people massed on the Turkish-Greek border. Turkey hosts some four million refugees and faces another huge influx from the civil war in Syria.


“The use of refugees and migrants in a geopolitical discussion and political discourses has to be very carefully monitored,” says Nicos Trimikliniotis of the European Agency for Fundamental Rights.

“Erdogan is doing it, and in response, Greece is doing exactly the same thing. This is completely unacceptable. If they want to end the dictatorship which Erdogan is imposing on Turkey, they should state it rather than pretend that the refugees are an invading army and that this is dangerous,” he says.

In a report titled “Cyprus as a new refugee hotspot in Europe?” published by a centre-left German political foundation, Trimikliniotis argues that there is little evidence that Cyprus will become a new migration route to Europe.

But the number of immigrants into Cyprus is certainly growing, with 13,200 asylum applications in 2019 alone, the highest number ever recorded.

Grave concern

On 4 March, the Greek Cypriot president Nicos Anastasiades said he conveyed to Turkish Cypriot leader Mustafa Akinci the Greek Cypriot side’s “grave concern” over the increasing flow of migrants, citing concerns that Turkey’s decision to open the borders could be also aimed at “altering the demographic character of Cyprus”.

Also on 4 March, 101 migrants arrived in Cyprus on board a 15-meter boat, while a further hundred crossed through the “green zone” separating northern and southern Cyprus.

The Mediterranean island is split between the Republic of Cyprus, an EU member state, and a breakaway Turkish entity in the north, recognised only by Ankara.

Geopolitical game

“It is a geopolitical game, resulting from the fact that the relationship between Turkey and the EU is not good. The EU has paid only half of the money promised to keep the refugees in Turkey. This is a very problematic agreement from the perspective of human rights because it eventually treats all refugees as migrants."

Trimikliniotis says the situation is being exploited by politicians, especially those on the extreme right, including the Elam, a neo-Nazi political group that is linked to Greece’s Golden Dawn.

“They attempt to connect the Cyprus problem, where the island is politically split between Turkey and a Greek Cypriot part, to what is going on in Greece, what’s going on in Turkey. It creates a discourse of fear. If they connect it, the other side will do the same.

“They say that we are under threat and that we are going to be destroyed by the Islamists who are coming to take over our country. But this discourse is not only in Cyprus, it is all over Europe, it is all around the world,” he says.

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