Home News They sought safety in Cyprus but were trapped in the UN buffer...

They sought safety in Cyprus but were trapped in the UN buffer zone on the island.


Nearly 30 asylum seekers are trapped in the UN-controlled buffer zone between Cyprus’ Turkish-occupied north and the internationally recognised south as Cypriot authorities crack down on illegal immigration amid a sharp increase in the number of Syrian refugees from Lebanon.

The migrants, 13 from Syria and 14 from the Middle East, Africa and Asia, were spread across different locations in the buffer zone, which stretches about 112 miles across the Mediterranean nation of European Union member Cyprus and divides the capital, Nicosia, in two. They arrived on foot from the occupied north in the area known as the Green Zone.

The migrants face deportation if they return to the north, which makes up about a third of the island and is recognized only by Turkey, because the government there does not have the legal infrastructure to provide asylum. Under the government, entering the buffer zone from the occupied north would also constitute an illegal trespass and could lead to their deportation.

Cyprus President Nicos Christodoulidis said last week that the country’s authorities would provide humanitarian aid to migrants currently in the buffer zone but would not allow them to enter the south for fear of setting a precedent. “We will not allow the opening of new illegal migration routes,” he told reporters last Tuesday.

Konstantinos Letymbiotis, a government spokesman for Cyprus, which manages accession to the European Union as a member state, said last month that the country would “continue to exercise effective supervision over the entire buffer zone.”

But an official from the European Commission, the EU’s executive arm, said on Tuesday that member states have an obligation to allow refugees to apply for asylum, even in buffer zones. “EU law provides that anyone can apply for international protection on the territory of a member state, including at its borders or in transit zones,” European Commission Interior Department spokeswoman Anita Schipper said in a statement.

Emilia Strovolidou, a spokeswoman for the UN refugee agency in Cyprus, said migrants from the buffer zone had arrived in two waves over the past three weeks. She expressed concern about their fate as temperatures are expected to exceed 100 degrees Fahrenheit (38 degrees Celsius) this week.

“These people left their country in search of safety and a better life, and now they are trapped,” she said. “And we have a heat wave coming.”

She said a 13-year-old boy in the group had been transferred to a hospital in Nicosia with “psychological problems” and suffered daily bouts of dizziness and nausea from the heat.

Ms. Strovolidou said toilets and showers had been installed, and aid workers and U.N. peacekeepers had provided tents and food for the migrants, who have been stationed in the buffer zone since it was set up after the island was occupied in 1974. The Turkish and Greek communities were effectively divided.

But Ms Strovolidou noted that the migrants could not live indefinitely in tents in the middle of the demilitarised zone, adding that the UN agency had urged Cypriot authorities to grant them asylum.

Thousands of Syrians have left Lebanon this year The country suffered Severe economic difficulties and Neighboring Israel’s military operations in Gaza have led to heightened tensions. Syria has been mired in civil war for more than 13 years, and as the recent conflict has attracted world attention, international aid to Syria has also decreased.

In mid-April, President Christodoulidis said Cyprus would freeze asylum applications from Syrian refugees in light of a sharp increase in the number of refugees arriving from Lebanon. In the first three months of this year, more than 2,000 undocumented migrants arrived in the country by sea, compared with 78 in the same period last year, according to Cypriot government data.

Ms. Strovolidou said the freeze on asylum processing had left more than 14,000 Syrians in Cyprus stranded, many of whom had been waiting for a response to their asylum applications for more than a year.

Most people are entitled to food and shelter in Cyprus, but they do not have the right to work. Under the April decision, anyone who has returned to Syria through Turkish-occupied northern Cyprus in the past 12 months no longer has the right to international protection and faces deportation.

Cypriot authorities have also sent ships to patrol the area between Cyprus and Lebanon.When Mr. Christodoulidis accompanied European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen on a visit to Lebanon in early May, the European official pledged 1 billion euros ($1.08 billion) in aid to help the Lebanese economy and combat people smuggling.

The actions have helped curb sea arrivals in Cyprus but appear to have also triggered more activity on the other side of the Green Line, which in turn has prompted Cypriot authorities to deploy additional border guards to the buffer zone.

Migrants have been stranded in the buffer zone in previous years, but not in such large numbers, according to aid workers. In one incident in 2021, two Cameroonians were trapped in the buffer zone for seven months until they were Pope Francis visits Cyprus.

Ms. Strovolidou noted that migrants who successfully cross the border into the south are received by state agencies and called for help for those in the buffer zone. “They don’t know what is happening or how long they will be stuck there,” she said. “They are in limbo.”

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