It is a strange spot to pitch a tent.
Two Cameroonian asylum seekers have been living in a small tent for almost five months in the middle the UN-patrolled buffer area that has divided Cyprus along ethnic lines ever since 1974.
If they return to the Turkish Cypriot North, where they attempted to enter hoping for a better life, they will be deported. The south appears determined to prevent them from entering — in order to discourage other would-be migrants.
Even worse, they can easily see people moving freely between the north and the south because their tent is located beside a main authorized crossing, one of nine connecting the two communities.
Enjei Grace claims that Daniel Ejube and she were wrong to attempt to enter the internationally recognized southern region to apply for asylum.
The 24-year-old said, “We are sorry”, and added that they hoped authorities wouldn’t leave them in limbo for “forever.”
She said, “We just pray that things get sorted out. It’s not been easy for us.”
The case has not been directly mentioned by the authorities in the breakaway northern nor the Cyprus government. The government has not indicated that they would allow them in, out of concern that other migrants from the Middle East or Africa might see the buffer zone and consider it an easy route to asylum.
According to Cyprus, it receives the most first-time asylum requests of all 27 EU member countries. This is in proportion to its population of approximately 1.1 million. The Interior Minister Nicos Nouris told Ylva Johansson, EU Home Affairs Commissioner, that more asylum seekers cannot be hosted in Cyprus because of the “severe burden” placed on the country’s reception system.
Nouris stated that Cyprus is obliged to take “significant and drastic” steps along the buffer zone. He also said that 800 migrants had crossed it in the past ten days. Nouris stated that 15,000 migrants had had their asylum applications denied, but they cannot be deported as there is no EU policy or agreement with their countries on their return.
At a Brussels summit, Nicos Anastasiades, the President of Cyprus, stated that the country has received 6,800 asylum requests so far this year. 6,250 were filed by people who have crossed from the north.
According to the Cypriot government, Turkey is allegedly sending asylum seekers to the Turkish Cypriot north on the Mediterranean island of Cyprus in order for them create a new point of pressure on the south. According to the government, almost 80% of migrants who arrive illegally cross the buffer zone.
After a coup led by supporters of union with Greece, Turkey invaded Cyprus in 1974. This caused the division of Cyprus. Only Turkey recognizes the Turkish Cypriot declaration in the north of independence. Only the Greek Cypriot South enjoys full member benefits. Decades of talks on reunification have not led to any progress.
Grace and Ejube, 20 years old, were unaware of the island’s complicated politics. They flew separately to an airport north in hopes of escaping a troubled past. Grace claims she fled Cameroon in order to escape civil war and a sexually harassing uncle.
Ejube claimed that his father paid for his trip, where he would study and not be recruited by Cameroon rebel forces. Grace and he both said that they did not know anything about the division in Cyprus.
Grace stated that the island was the “main” EU destination she considered when she decided to emigrate.
Grace and Ejube realized that asylum was not available in the Turkish Cypriot north. Grace and Ejube said in May that a friend had told them they could “jump a gate” at night to get to the south.
They were not blessed with the best luck. U.N. officers were patrolling the area near the 16th-century Venetian-built capital walls. They noticed them and returned them to the buffer zone. Normally, the U.N. transfers asylum seekers to the authorities in the south. However, this did not happen with Grace and Ejube.
Since then, they have lived there with food and clothing donated to them by the U.N refugee agency as well as individuals from the Greek and Turkish Cypriot communities.
Aleem Sidiqque, spokesperson for U.N. Peacekeeping Force, stated that the Cyprus government has the responsibility to accept asylum seekers. The Force’s job was to coordinate between them to “prevent unauthorized entry” to the buffer area.
Emilia Strovolidou spokeswoman for U.N. refugee agency, said Grace and Ejube should have access to asylum procedures in accordance with national, EU, and international law. She stated that “despite our interventions with authorities, access was denied.”