NICOSIA – Cyprus is seeing a surge of migrants after Turkey's president made good on a threat to stop intercepting people trying to reach Europe.
Cyprus, a member of the European Union, is a mere 51 miles (83 kilometers) away from Turkey at its nearest point.
Interior Minister Nicos Nouris said 223 migrants reached the island's south in the last 72 hours, 153 of them arriving Tuesday. Police said another boat ferrying 101 Syrian migrants reached Cypriot shores later Tuesday after setting sail from Mersin, Turkey.
“Certainly, this concerns us, and we want to see what measures we can take in order to guard against any change in the country’s demographic character but without discounting human suffering,” Cypriot President Nicos Anastasiades said.
Under a 2016 agreement with the EU, Turkey tried to keep migrants and refugees from setting off for European shores in return for billions of euros in EU funding to care for Syrian refugees in Turkey.
Government officials in ethnically divided Cyprus have accused Turkey for months of deliberately channeling migrants from the breakaway Turkish Cypriot north to the internationally recognized Greek Cypriot south. Cyprus was split in 1974 when Turkey invaded following a coup by supporters of union with Greece. Only Turkey recognizes a Turkish Cypriot declaration of independence. Although Cyprus is a EU member, only the south enjoys full membership benefits.
Nouris said speeding up the asylum application process and getting the EU to take charge of negotiations with third countries were the key steps to make room for refugees fleeing conflicts while halting migrants only fleeing poverty.
“The number of economic migrants is no longer manageable, simply because our limits have been surpassed,” Nouris said, adding that no one would be sent back to a country where their life would be in danger.