Wednesday, June 29, 2022

Limbo in a blue tent: African asylum seekers trapped in Cyprus

NICOSIA, Cyprus (AP) — Seems like a strange place to pitch a tent.

Thick in the middle of the UN-patrolled buffer zone that has divided Cyprus along ethnic lines since 1974, in the center of the island’s medieval capital, two Cameroonian asylum seekers have been living in a small blue tent for nearly five months .

The broken Turkish Cyprus north, through which they entered the European Union, hoping to reach the Greek Cyprus south, would be deported if they returned. And the South is determined not to let them in – to discourage more migrants from trying the same route.

To make things worse, the two can see people moving freely between north and south at all times, as their tent is near the main authorized crossing—one of nine communities connecting the two communities.

Angie Grace says she and Daniel Edube were wrong to try to enter the internationally recognized South to apply for asylum.

“We’re sorry,” the 24-year-old says with teary-eyed eyes, hoping the authorities won’t leave her in limbo “forever.”

“We just pray they sort things out, it’s not easy for us,” she said.

So far neither the Government of Cyprus nor the authorities in separate replies have directly mentioned the matter. And the government has given no indication that it will let them in, fearing that other migrants from the Middle East and Africa may be encouraged to see the buffer zone as an easy gateway to asylum.

Cyprus says it has the highest number of first-time asylum applications among all 27 EU members, relative to a population of around 1.1 million. Interior Minister Nikos Norris has told EU Home Affairs Commissioner Ylva Johansson that the country cannot host more asylum seekers “due to the grave burden” on its reception system.

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At last week’s conference of the EU’s Asylum Support Office in Malta, Nouris said Cyprus is obliged to take “important and drastic” measures with the buffer zone, adding that around 800 migrants have left in the recent 10-day period. crossed it within. Nouris said 15,000 migrants have rejected their asylum applications but cannot be deported because the EU has no consistent policy – or agreement with their home countries – on deporting them.

The Cypriot government claims that Turkey systematically sends asylum seekers to Turkish Cyprus north of the Mediterranean island to create a new pressure point in the south. It said that about 80% of the incoming migrants enter the buffer zone illegally.

Cyprus was divided in 1974 when Turkey invaded after a coup by supporters of the union with Greece. Only Turkey in the north recognizes the declaration of independence of Turkish Cyprus. Only the Greek Cypriot South enjoys full membership benefits. Decades of reunification talks are nowhere to be found.

The complicated politics of the island were lost on Grace and 20-year-old Azube when they, separately, fly north to an airport with the hope of leaving a troubled past behind. Grace says she fled to Cameroon to escape the civil war and an uncle who sexually assaulted her.

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Ejube said that his father paid for his trip to Cyprus where he would study and avoid being recruited by Cameroonian rebel forces. Both he and Grace said they did not know about the partition of Cyprus.

Grace said the island appeared as a “main” available EU destination when she decided to emigrate.

After realizing that asylum was not available in the Turkish-Cypriot north, Grace and Ejube say a friend told them in May that they could easily “jump a fence” at night to reach the south.

Luck was not on his side. UN police officers patrolling a siege area in a section of the capital’s 16th-century Venetian-built walls noticed them and returned them to the buffer zone. Normally, the United Nations would send asylum seekers to the authorities in the south, but this did not happen with Ezube and Grace.

They have been living there ever since, with food and clothing donated by the United Nations Refugee Agency and individuals from both the Greek and Turkish Cypriot communities.

UN Peacekeeping Force spokesman Aleem Siddiq said the Cypriot government had a “responsibility” to accept asylum seekers and that the force’s job was to coordinate between the two sides to “prevent unauthorized access” to the buffer zone.

UN refugee agency spokeswoman Emilia Strovolido said Grace and Azube should be allowed access to asylum procedures in accordance with national, EU and international law. “Despite our intervention with the authorities, access has been denied,” she said.

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Follow AP’s global migration coverage at https://apnews.com/hub/migration

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Nation World News Desk
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