Greek Cyprus mulls surveillance system to halt migrant arrivals

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The Greek Cypriot administration is planning to install an electronic surveillance system on the U.N.-controlled buffer zone that divides the island to stem irregular migration, an official said Tuesday.

Government spokesperson Marios Pelekanos announced the plan following a meeting of police and defense officials, chaired by Greek Cypriot leader Nicos Anastasiades, on dealing with migrant arrivals.

According to European Union statistics, the number of migrants crossing from the Turkish-Cypriot north to the Greek-Cypriot south through the buffer zone in January-April rose 184% over the same period last year.

Pelekanos said Cyprus expects the EU — of which the eastern Mediterranean island is a member — to follow through on a promise for financial and material help to cope with the arrivals. Cyprus and the EU signed a deal on the matter last month.

He didn’t provide details on the surveillance system planned for later this year along the 180-kilometer (120-mile) buffer zone, which is patrolled by the United Nations. The majority of asylum-seekers travel to the breakaway north and then clandestinely cross to the south. Most come from Syria, India, Cameroon, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Nigeria and the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Pelekanos said Cyprus is “duty-bound” to find solutions in coordination with the EU, even as the island has received thousands of Ukrainians fleeing invading Russian forces in their homeland. The EU has granted automatic temporary protection to refugees from Ukraine, who arrive through legal corridors.

He said a unit of trained personnel will also be set up to monitor the buffer zone, while police will step up patrols in areas where migrant concentrations are highest amid concerns of an “observed increase in crime.”

Greek Cypriot officials say 5% of Cyprus’ current population are asylum-seekers — five times the EU average — while the country has the highest number of asylum applications per capita in the 27 country bloc.

The Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (TRNC) has repeatedly proposed to establish cooperation with the Greek Cypriots on irregular migration, but the latter refused to cooperate.

Recent years have seen multiple reports of Greek forces illegally pushing back boats of asylum-seekers, endangering the passengers in the process.

Turkey is a major crossing point for migrants from the Middle East, Asia and Africa seeking a better life in European Union countries.

Most try to cross into Greece – a key gateway to the EU for people fleeing war or poverty – by either crossing the northeastern land border or cramming into boats headed for the eastern Aegean Sea islands.

The island of Cyprus has been mired in a decadeslong struggle between the Turkish and Greek Cypriots, despite a series of diplomatic efforts by the United Nations to achieve a comprehensive settlement.

The island has been divided since 1964 when ethnic attacks forced the Turkish Cypriots to withdraw into enclaves for their safety. In 1974, a Greek Cypriot coup aiming at Greece’s annexation led to Turkey’s military intervention as a guarantor power. The TRNC was founded in 1983.

The Greek Cypriot administration, backed by Greece, became a member of the European Union in 2004, despite most Greek Cypriots rejecting a U.N. settlement plan in a referendum that year, which had envisaged a reunited Cyprus joining the EU.

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