The European Union is looking for ways to stem the flow of migrants from Turkey to Cyprus and EU nations when it holds high-level talks in Ankara next month, EU Home Affairs Commissioner Ylva Johansson said Tuesday.
Johansson said, “it’s not impossible to find a way forward” on preventing migrants from leaving Turkey to reach the island because the number of migrants reaching Cyprus isn’t very large relative to the huge number of refugees which Turkey hosts. But she couldn’t say what such a deal would look like.
Johansson said she wanted to learn firsthand the difficulties faced by divided Cyprus, which she said has the most asylum applications relative to its population when compared among EU nations. She also visited a migrant reception center on the outskirts of Nicosia (Lefkoşa).
“We have faced … a lot of challenges in our relations with Turkey. Now, we are in a situation where these relations are … being better,” Johansson said after talks with the Greek Cypriot administration’s Nicos Nouris.
Nouris said that since the start of the year, 7,000 out of 8,500 asylum applications have been rejected and that only 300 people have been repatriated because of an EU-wide policy “weakness.”
The island of Cyprus has been mired in a decadeslong struggle between Greek and Turkish Cypriots, despite a series of diplomatic efforts by the U.N. to achieve a comprehensive settlement. Five decades of Cyprus talks have led nowhere.
The island has been divided since 1964, when ethnic attacks forced Turkish Cypriots to withdraw into enclaves for their safety. In 1974, a Greek Cypriot coup aiming at annexation by Greece led to Turkey’s military intervention as a guarantor power. The Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (TRNC) was founded in 1983.
The Greek Cypriot administration, backed by Greece, became a member of the European Union in 2004, even though in a referendum that year most Greek Cypriots rejected a U.N. settlement plan that envisaged a reunited Cyprus joining the EU.