On 10 November the Republic of Cyprus announced that it will request European Commission approval to suspend asylum procedures on the island for people entering the country “illegally”. According to Italian authorities, almost 60,000 people have disembarked in 2021 so far and arrivals continue. Ten people have lost their lives off Libya where unrest continues. The number of people intercepted and returned to Libya from the Med nears 30,000 in total. 

According to government spokesperson Marios Pelekanos, Cyprus will request the European Commission grant the Republic of Cyprus “the right to suspend asylum applications by people entering the country illegally”. The spokesperson justified the move – that contravenes the right to an asylum assessment and potentially breaches the principle of non-refoulement – on the basis of an increase in arrivals via Turkish held Northern Cyprus. Plekanos stated that more than 9,000 out of 10,868 arrivals in the first 10 months of 2021 entered the country via the porous “Green Line”. Adopting the framing used by the Greek government, he added that this constituted: “a clear policy of instrumentalising human pain by Turkey”. The Cypriot government has taken a hardline approach to asylum seekers including through recent controversial pushbacks of Syrian nationals to Lebanon. The administration maintains that asylum seekers represent a demographic challenge as their number exceeds four per cent of the island population: however, activist groups deem this figure misleading.

Statistics released by Italian authorities reveal a year-on-year increase in sea arrivals from 9,944 in all of 2019 to 31,213 in all of 2020 and with 57,833 in 2021 as of 12 November. Following the disembarkation of 800 survivors rescued by Sea-Eye 4 last week at the Sicilian port of Trapani, arrivals continue. Over the weekend of 13-14 November somewhere between 550 and 600 people were rescued in stormy seas by the Italian coast guard in two separate operations. The people were disembarked in the port of Roccella Jonica in the Calabria region. Also on 14 November, 113 people reached Lampedusa on smaller fishing boats and on 15 November another small vessel carrying 20 people including two children was intercepted by Italian authorities off Lampedusa and transferred to the hotspot at Contrada Imbriacola. Following a conference on Libya attended by European leaders, Italian prime minister, Mario Draghi, stated: “these continuous landings in Italy are making the situation unsustainable”.

Médecins Sans Frontières on 16 November rescued 99 survivors onboard an overcrowded wooden boat off the coast of Libya. 10 people were found dead on the boat. According to the International Organization for Migration (IOM) 791 people were intercepted and returned to Libya between 7 and 13 November with the total for 2021 so far standing at 29, 427. Further, 1,226 people have died or gone missing on the central Mediterranean route in 2021 so far. The civilian search and rescue organization Sea-Watch International has released audio documenting threats made to the crew of its rescue vessel Sea-Watch 4 by the so-called Libyan Coast Guard. Despite being in international waters at the time the rescuers were told to: “”change your course right now … or we will take you back with us to Libya”. Protests have continued for more than 40 days in Tripoli. The Libyan capital was the scene of a brutal crack-down against people on the move in October. Several staff members from the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) staff were attacked in recent days with one security guard hospitalized when violent demonstrators tried to prevent refugees and asylum seekers from entering the building to receive services from the agency’s office in Tripoli.

On 12 November, 63 people from the Horn of Africa arrived from refugee camps in Ethiopia to Rome as part the humanitarian corridor established by the Italian government in cooperation with church organisations.

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Photo: ECRE

This article appeared in the ECRE Weekly Bulletin. You can subscribe to the Weekly Bulletin here.