Cyprus unveils campaign to counter spike in asylum seekers

FILE PHOTO: Migrants disembark from a boat in Paphos port, Cyprus November 11, 2021. REUTERS/Yiannis Kourtoglou

NICOSIA (Reuters) - Cyprus is launching an information campaign to counter a spike in irregular migration, authorities said on Tuesday, saying they were struggling with the highest inflows in the European Union.

The east Mediterranean island has had the highest new asylum applications in proportion to its population for the past six years. Eurostat data for 2022 showed it at double that of second-placed Austria.

Cyprus is not a member of the EU's visa-free Schengen Area, meaning that an irregular migrant could be stranded there.

"Traffickers wrongly portray Cyprus as an interim stop for an onward journey to Europe, ignoring the fact that its an island," said Constantinos Ioannou, Cyprus's interior minister.

A social media campaign entitled "Lets Talk Truth About Cyprus" and directed primarily at countries in sub-Saharan Africa says 96% of asylum applications are rejected, and rejected applicants face a five-year EU entry ban.

Divided since a Turkish invasion triggered by a brief Greece-inspired coup in 1974, irregular migration poses a challenge for authorities. A ceasefire line dividing areas under the control of an internationally recognised government and a breakaway Turkish Cypriot state in the north is proving particularly porous.

Cypriot officials say 95% of arrivals use the ceasefire line route. Many asylum seekers arrive on the island itself on student visas to privately-run universities in northern Cyprus, then slip through the ceasefire line, which is not heavily guarded.

Ioannou said authorities had recently recruited additional guards and deployed additional resources to process asylum applications. Authorities plan to establish a migration ministry for better administration of the matter, he said.

(Reporting by Michele Kambas; editing by Paul Simao)

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