UN chief expresses 'strong concern' over Greek Cypriot administration's treatment of asylum seekers

UN chief expresses 'strong concern' over Greek Cypriot administration's treatment of asylum seekers

Antonio Guterres calls on Greek Cypriot administration to 'rapidly resume processing of asylum applications for all and to reinstate full access to asylum procedures'

By Serife Cetin

NEW YORK (AA) – UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres on Thursday expressed his strong distress over the Greek Cypriot administration's treatment of asylum-seekers and urged it to fulfil its international obligations in a recent report on Southern Cyprus.

The report, obtained by Anadolu, on the UN Peacekeeping Force in Cyprus (UNFICYP), was sent to the UN Security Council late Wednesday.

The report, which covered the period from Dec. 2023 to June 2024, cited the Greek Cypriot administration's decision to suspend asylum applications from Syrian refugees and said the UNFICYP and the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) were forced to provide emergency aid as a result.

"Asylum applications in Cyprus decreased significantly in 2023, with 11,617 applications, representing a decrease of 46 per cent compared to 2022," the report said, adding that the Greek Cypriots still announced the suspension of asylum applications.

The refugee movement to the island was described as "mixed," with 82% of Syrian refugees arriving directly by boat in the southern part of the island, it said.

It noted that the percentage of refugees attempting to cross to Southern Cyprus via the "Green Line" on the island fell from 57% in 2023 to 33% in the first five months of 2024.

"The lack of access to asylum procedures at the crossing points on the Green Line remains a fundamental problem, placing asylum-seekers at risk of exploitation or of being stranded in the buffer zone," it added.

The report further noted an increase in Greek Cypriot authorities' attempts to intercept boats, which resulted in some refugees going missing and others losing their lives.

"I reiterate my strong concern regarding the pushback and interception of boats without providing the necessary protection and reiterate to all the necessity of abiding by the principle of non-refoulement," Guterres emphasized in the report.

It further pointed out that the Greek Cypriot administration's security forces maintained a "sustained" presence in the buffer zone to prevent irregular migration, urging it to fulfil its obligations under international refugee law.

"As of 7 June, 29 third country nationals, including 7 minors (some unaccompanied), remain stranded in the buffer zone," the report stated.

Adding that the refugees stranded in the buffer zone were subjected to pressure, sexual abuse, gender-based violence, and severe health problems, it said: "Their vulnerabilities, coupled with being stranded in the buffer zone for several weeks, often in extreme heat, have led in many instances to their urgent transfer to hospitals in the Republic of Cyprus, from which however they have repeatedly been pushed back to the buffer zone, despite their explicit requests to seek asylum and their evident protection needs."

In the report, Guterres expressed his concern about the situation of refugees stranded in the buffer zone, saying: I am also concerned regarding the situation of asylum-seekers currently stranded in the buffer zone, including unaccompanied minors, with no access to asylum procedures."

He called on the Greek Cypriot administration to reconsider and restart the asylum application process, noting that this would also be effective in preventing human trafficking and other irregular movements.

*Writing by Merve Aydogan

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