A high percentage of asylum seekers enter Cyprus from the areas not controlled by the Republic of Cyprus (RoC), in the north of the island, and then cross the “green line” / no-man’s land to the areas under the control of the RoC. The “green line” is not considered a border and although there are authorised points of crossing along it, these are not considered official entry points into the RoC. Crossing of the “green line” is regulated under the “Green Line” Regulation. A certain number may enter at legal entry points and then apply for asylum, whereas about half of applicants are persons already in the country who have entered and stayed under other statuses such as domestic workers, students etc. and apply for asylum when their initial residence permit has expired.
If a person has entered the areas in the north without permission from the authorities there, they may be arrested and returned to Turkey and, from there, possibly returned to their country of origin. As the acquis is suspended in the areas in the north, there is no asylum system in force. In order to cross the “green line” through the points of crossing a person needs a valid visa and will be checked by police acting in the north and then by RoC Police. As the majority of persons seeking asylum do not have such a visa, they cross the “green line” in an irregular manner often with the help of smugglers.
In 2018, it was noted that the number of persons irregularly crossing the line increased, and that the situation needs to be monitored carefully. In 2019, with the numbers of applicants for international protection doubling once again from the 2018 numbers (13,259 first-time applicants applied for asylum in 2019) the government stated that changes would be made to the Green Line Regulation. In addition, in March 2020 the Council of Ministers declared General Measures in the form of an Action Plan which specifically stated that a request for financial support to the European Commission would be sent for the period 2020-2021 to cover the required operating and administrative costs and equipment for surveillance of the coastline and the Green line. However, to date it is not clear what changes will be made and how these will impact the entry of persons, the majority of whom cross at unofficial points.
If a person who has entered the north reaches the RoC police officers and expresses the intention to apply for asylum to them, he or she will then be referred to the Aliens and Immigration Unit in order to lodge an application. If the person has been in the RoC before and had been forcefully or voluntarily returned, or in cases of persons remaining irregularly, they may be arrested and detained, but they will be given access to the asylum procedure in most cases, if requested.
Besides arrivals from the north, a smaller number of asylum seekers enter the RoC at official points of entry (ports and airports). Since 2016, there have also been small boat arrivals of about 15-45 persons reaching either the areas in the north – with persons then passing into the areas under the control of the RoC – or arriving directly in the areas under the control of the RoC. The majority of boats come from Turkey and a smaller number from Lebanon or Syria. In 2017, there were 9 such arrivals whereas in 2018 the number of such boat arrivals was over 30. In 2019, there were 11 boat arrivals with 427 persons. In 2020, the Cypriot authorities, for the first time, pushed back a boat carrying 115 Syrians, of whom 69 were children. They used Covid-19 as a justification for this measure. Reportedly, the authorities identified the boat prior to reaching the shores of the RoC, officers in uniform, wielding guns boarded the boat, seized the mobile devices of the people on board, threw the devices overboard and directed the boat to leave the territorial waters of the RoC and return to Syria. Later on during the day the boat reached the shore in the areas not effectively controlled by the Republic and the refugees were transferred to a stadium for the weekend. All were tested for Covid -19 and all were found negative.
A significant number of persons arriving by these boats are relatives of persons already residing in Cyprus, often including spouses and underage children of persons with subsidiary protection. This is partly due to the fact that the vast majority of Syrians are granted subsidiary protection and this status, since 2014, does not have access to Family Reunification.
Additionally, the route of arrival through the north has become harder and/or more expensive to access. Therefore, for many people irregular boat arrivals are seen as the cheaper way or the only way to bring their immediate family.
People apprehended by the police within areas under the control of the RoC before applying for asylum may be arrested for irregular entry and/or stay, regardless of whether they were intending to apply for asylum, even if they were on their way to apply for asylum and have only been in the country for a few days. Since 2014, this does not apply to Syrian nationals who will not be arrested even if they have not regularised their stay, with the exception of a small number of Syrians who entered the RoC by boat and were arrested upon arrival due to previously being in Cyprus and still listed as “prohibited immigrants”. In 2017, following advocacy on the issue, a shift has been noted in this practice and, although such persons may initially be arrested, they are not prosecuted or the prosecution does not proceed and they are soon released.
Council Regulation (EC) No 866/2004 on a regime under Article 2 of Protocol No 10 of the Act of Accession as last amended by Council Regulation (EC) No 587/2008.
EU Accession Treaty – Protocols on Cyprus, available at: https://bit.ly/2vTilJ0. The Protocol on Cyprus, attached to the Treaty of Accession signed on 16 April 2003 by the Republic of Cyprus, provides for the suspension of the application of the acquis in those areas of the Republic of Cyprus, where the Government of the Republic does not exercise effective control.
Associated Press, ‘Cyprus sees surge in migrants crossing from breakaway north’, 10 December 2018, available at: https://bit.ly/2BKDiph; The Guardian, ‘“Cyprus is saturated” – burgeoning migrant crisis grips island’, 11 December 2018, available at: https://bit.ly/2Qsx2Mu.
European Commission, Fourteenth report on the implementation of Council Regulation (EC) No 866/2004 and the situation resulting from its application covering the period 1 January until 31 December 2017, COM(2018) 488, 22 June 2018, available at: https://bit.ly/2BHUvQ4.