NICOSIA, Cyprus (AP) — The European Union has asked Turkish Cypriot authorities in the breakaway north of ethnically divided Cyprus to toughen up measures aimed at reducing the rising number of migrants seeking asylum in the island nation’s internationally recognized south.
An EU official said Friday that the bloc “explained its concerns” about the issue and that Turkish Cypriot authorities “must do what’s necessary” to curb migrant arrivals. The official spoke to The Associated Press on condition anonymity because he’s not allowed to speak about the issue publicly.
Cyprus was split along ethnic lines in 1974 when Turkey invaded following a coup aimed at union with Greece. Only Turkey recognizes a Turkish Cypriot declaration of independence. Cypriot government authorities say the overwhelming majority of migrant arrivals occurs via Turkey and the Turkish Cypriot north through a loosely regulated student visa system.
The Cypriot Interior Ministry on Friday again accused Turkey of “systematically instrumentalizing economic migrants from sub-Saharan Africa.”
The EU wants Turkish Cypriot authorities to tighten up vetting procedures for issuing such visas to prevent applicants from using them to reach northern Cyprus, cross a porous U.N.-controlled buffer zone and then seek asylum in the Greek Cypriot south. Although Turkish Cypriots receive EU funding, only the south enjoys full membership benefits.
The EU is also helping Cypriot authorities bolster monitoring and surveillance of the buffer zone to deter crossings in a way that is compatible with EU law, since the 180-kilometer (120-mile) long area isn’t a formal border.
Cyprus’ interior ministry says the number of asylum-seekers in the first half of this year amounted to 12,000 – equal to the number for all of last year. It says asylum-seekers make up an EU high of 5% of Cyprus’ 915,000 people in the south.
Meanwhile, Turkish Cypriot leader Ersin Tatar said Friday that he has proposed setting up a joint, U.N.-facilitated committee of officials from either side tasked with finding ways of curbing irregular migration as well as “strengthening security and surveillance along the buffer zone and increasing patrolling by the coast guards.”
Tatar has insisted that the only way to move forward on a peace deal in Cyprus is for Turkish Cypriots to attain equal sovereign status with the Cypriot government and agree on a two-state accord.
The EU and the U.N. Security Council say that goes against the agreed-upon settlement framework of reunifying the island as a federation composed of Greek and Turkish Cypriot zones. Greek Cypriots reject any deal that would formalize the island’s partition.
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