Immigration as a matter of national survival, SAIT

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by Panikos Leonidou

The migration issue, with the persistent threats from Turkey and galloping inflation due to the explosion of energy prices, undoubtedly occupies the first place in the hierarchy of concerns of Cypriot citizens. This societal reaction is well documented, as we all recognize the seriousness of the situation with the relentless flow of immigrants entering the free territory of the Republic of Cyprus.

With cheap plane tickets from many African countries, thousands of migrants have arrived in the occupied territories via Turkey and hope to cross the Green Line to the European Promised Land.

The evidence is indeed terrifying. Since the start of 2022, the number of irregular migrants has exceeded 17,000, almost doubling that of 2021. The total is currently in the tens of thousands, in a population of 918,100, of which 21.1 193,300 are foreign nationals, according to the latest census. As a result, if current influx rates continue, immigrants will constitute a significant proportion of the Republic’s population. Of course, the average Cypriot has always been distinguished by his hospitable feelings and has never been overwhelmed by xenophobic sentiments. Tens of thousands of foreigners have worked and settled in our country in recent decades, such as after the war in Lebanon. They too prospered and offered their labor to the country. But now something very unmanageable happens.

The constant influx of people, mainly from Africa but also from Asia, who can hardly be absorbed into productive activities due to limited resources, exposes us to the threat of marginalized populations, ghettos and constant delinquent behavior. This is all the more true since it is not a situation with a defined end date. And we can already see this with the tragic incidents at the first Pournara shelter, as well as other unsavory incidents that are constantly being recorded.

Our concerns are compounded by the certainty that Ankara is behind this phenomenon, which has long instrumentalized migration in order to reap its benefits, as is now an accepted fact in the EU. The way it does this was clearly seen at the Greek-Turkish border at Evros, where a massive invasion of migrants tried to cross over to the EU side with the help of the Turkish military gendarmerie. And recently in Evros again where migrants were forced to undress at the border. Also, cases in the Aegean Sea where migrant boats are steered by Turkish Coast Guard boats.

Something similar is happening in Cyprus. With cheap plane tickets from many African countries, thousands of migrants have arrived in the occupied territories via Turkey and hope to cross the Green Line to the European Promised Land.

It is obvious that if immediate action is not taken to resolve the problem, it will be too late tomorrow. It is also encouraging to see the relevant ministry moving in the right direction. In addition, the issue has been placed on the pre-election agenda of presidential candidates. I would like to highlight recent thoughtful proposals by Nikos Christodoulides, which include targeted packages of measures which, if implemented consistently, have the potential to change the situation as it is today.

I am thinking, for example, of the increase in patrols at crossing points, particularly along the green line. The issue is undeniably sensitive and some of the concerns expressed are understandable. But that should not lead us to accept the accomplished facts that Turkey stubbornly cultivates. At the same time, there are measures that are entirely up to us. Like accelerating, if not hastening, the examination of asylum applications. A successful measure in Greece, with adequate asylum service staff. Decisions must be made quickly, within weeks. Anyone truly eligible for asylum should be granted it and be free to go where they want. However, those who are not entitled to it according to international agreements, that is to say those who do not come from a country at war or who do not risk their lives because they are persecuted because of their religion, politics, or other characteristics – will have their application denied and a return process to their country of origin will be put in place.

This is undoubtedly a difficult operation because his country must accept the request. In this regard, the EU has tools, such as development funding, to put pressure on governments, with incentives and disincentives to respond to demands for return. A good example of the EU’s clear relationship with Egypt. At the same time, the punishment for traffickers must be reinforced, with long prison sentences instead of “caress” sentences.

Of course, one could legitimately cast doubts on the effectiveness of these measures alone and the “surgical” reduction of flow rates. But we must all recognize that it is of the utmost importance to communicate the idea that Cyprus is not a “barren vineyard”. Potential migrants in an irregular situation will think twice once they learn that the country’s residency requirements are strict and that only those eligible for asylum can apply for asylum.

In any case, I think it is quite clear that if immigration to Western Europe causes serious political shocks in solid and established democracies like Sweden, France or Italy, where xenophobic parties receive a significant electoral support, the stakes are much higher for small, semi-occupied Cyprus. It is always about the survival of the country.

Mr. Panikos Leonidou is a lawyer and member of the Democratic Party in parliament.

[This article was translated from its Greek original]

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