KOKKINOTRIMITHIÁ | Live in a camp closed and overcrowded or re-enter the country? In Cyprus, several hundred asylum-seekers were instantly faced with this choice almost impossible, in full pandemic COVID-19. And they remain, to this day, in the expectation of a better future.
“Either you get on a bus (for the camp) or you sign a paper saying that you want to return in your country”, explains Ighodalo to the AFP. The migrant nigerian, who testifies under a pseudonym, is one of dozens of asylum seekers previously housed in hotels-apartments Aya Napa (south-east) and transferred abruptly into a camp of the island by the authorities.
“We have not even had the time to read the paper,” he continued.
Contacted by phone, Ighodalo is now stuck in the camp Pournara, in Kokkinotrimithia, close to the capital Nicosia. Consisting of pre-fabricated buildings and tents of the united Nations, surrounded by barbed wire, the camp built for 200 people there are currently some 800 migrants.
To justify this displacement impromptu, Cyprus explains not be able to pay the 19 million euros per year of housing for the migrants.
For a population of under a million inhabitants, “we have a considerable number of migrants, and 75 % are not refugees”, explained to AFP the Interior minister, Nikos Nouris, met in his office in Nicosia.
To tackle the highest rate of asylum applications per capita in Europe, Mr. Nouris says it wants to both speed up the admission procedures and voluntary repatriation.
Separated from Turkey by an arm of the sea less than 100 km wide, the mediterranean island is the input divided in the EU in 2004. Only recognized by the international community, the Republic of Cyprus controls two-thirds south. To the north is a self-proclaimed Turkish Republic (TRNC), only recognized by Ankara.
This territory of the north is a door of entry for migrants, who arrive by boat and enter through the south via the “green line”, patrolled by the united nations and which winds the island is approximately 180 km.
This buffer zone, which has a dozen crossing points, has seen the number of migrants steadily increase in recent years. Syria — the country in the war is near, but also of Cameroonian, Nigerian, Indian, Pakistani or Bangladeshi.
The asylum applications have increased from 2 253 2015 13 648 by 2019, says the cypriot minister.
“We want to welcome refugees” adds Nikos Nouris. “But we can no longer accommodate, in such a number, all the economic migrants.”
To this day, Ighodalo could not get out of the camp Pournara. Because if Cyprus raises gradually the containment measures related to the fight against the coronavirus, the centre’s doors remain closed because of the appearance of cases of scabies, according to the ministry of Health of cyprus.
For Doros Polycarpou, the advocacy group for the rights of migrants, Kisa, the decision to hold them without recourse in this camp constituted “a serious violation” of the act. And, according to him, Nicosia wanted to pass on a message: “Do not come over to Cyprus”.
In the beginning of summer, a campaign multilingual SMS sending from elsewhere to be launched by the authorities to inform migrants in Cyprus, situated outside the Schengen area, was not an entry ticket to the Old continent.
Vexed, another asylum seeker from nigeria, who also wishes to remain anonymous, said to him, have chosen the option of repatriation, in renouncing his asylum application.
“They put me in the camp (of Pournara) when I first came to Cyprus”, he said. “I don’t want to go back there. Ever. It is an awful place.”
Another NGO, the Cyprus Refugee Council, also denounced the “very difficult conditions” in the camp “closed, overcrowded, and without clear information about when (the migrants) will be allowed to leave.”
The authorities provide work for the installation of better equipment. And, once the epidemic of gale contained, Pournara will be able to reopen, as Kofinou, the other camp of migrants, ahead of Mr. Nouris.
In the meantime, the minister emphasized that no cases of COVID-19 has not been registered among migrants.
And if the deportations to 17 countries considered “safe” have started, Nikos Nouris reiterates its commitment to an acceleration of the study of asylum requests, with the support of additional staff and a new law.
But “if another wave of migrants arrives”, and “if the Turkey (…) continues to send people in the occupied areas of Cyprus” (the north of the island), then “we’re going to know a difficult time,” warns the minister, which calls for greater EU solidarity.