Smugglers appear to have established a new clandestine route to bring African migrants to Europe through Turkish-occupied north Cyprus, the website Info-Migrants reports.
In an article posted on Tuesday, it says an increasing number of Cameroonians now find themselves ‘trapped’ in Cyprus after being sold a ‘smuggle package’ to Italy.
Although Syrians still top the list of asylum seekers in Cyprus, Cameroonians are quickly catching up, and a growing number of other Africans are joining them, it adds.
The site spoke to Thierry, a father of three from Cameroon who spent his life savings on a plane ticket to Europe.
“I left Douala and my first stop was Istanbul. From there, I took another flight, thinking I was going to Italy because it was part of the ‘package’ that I’d bought,” said Thierry.
But instead, Thierry found himself in Turkish-occupied north Cyprus. To get to the government-controlled areas his smuggler told him he needed to get him fake documents and then arrange for him to be brought over the Green Line.
Thierry had to work long hours for six months to come up with the extra €400 needed.
“As soon as I made it to the European side of Cyprus, I applied for asylum but I still haven’t been called for an interview. Some have to wait for over a year, and no one tells us anything,” he told Info-Migrants.
Thierry is just one of the many Cameroonians who, in the past few months, have ended up in Cyprus after having been tricked by smugglers, Federico, manager of a charity-run day centre for migrants in Nicosia told the site.
“In general, the smugglers promise to bring them to Italy, and sometimes to Spain or to Greece. So when they arrive here, and we show them where they are on a map, many of them start to cry. They’re desperate and don’t understand,” Federico says.
Cypriot NGOs told Info-Migrants smugglers have identified this opportunity and are now looking for ways to capitalise on this new route.
Meanwhile, Cypriot authorities are struggling to keep up with the growing number of asylum applications.
According to a report released by the European Asylum Support Office (EASO) on Monday Cyprus was the top receiving country per capita of asylum seekers in the EU in 2018.
Last week, Interior Minister Constantinos Petrides told the Cyprus News Agency that a total of 3,060 asylum seekers have crossed into the government controlled areas from the Turkish occupied north from the beginning of 2019 to June 2.
He said most are men who come in large groups.
“It is therefore certainly an organised situation. We are talking of smuggling rings. There are Syrians, but also nationalities that we did not have before from countries in Africa such as Cameroon and Nigeria who come from the occupied areas and according to our information come by air to Tymbou,” he said.
On Monday Petrides told CyBC it was now now certain that a mass influx of migrants is arriving by aircraft to the breakaway north of Cyprus from Turkey.
He called Turkish Cypriot authorities facilitators of people trafficking rings, in collaboration with Turkey, adding that this “cannot be tolerated on a European level.”
Cyprus’ policy of accepting third-country asylum claimants through the breakaway north will be reviewed, he added.
Info-Migrants is a collaboration led by three major European media sources: France Médias Monde (France 24, Radio France International, Monte Carlo Doualiya), the German public broadcaster Deutsche Welle, and the Italian press agency ANSA.
Co-financed by the European Union, it aims to serve as a news and information site for migrants to counter misinformation at every point of their journey.