Cyprus out of cells for migrants

NICOSIA (AFP) – Cyprus admitted yesterday that it was unable to arrest and deport illegal immigrants for want of the appropriate police detention facilities. Justice Minister Doros Theodorou said the lack of holding centers was hampering police effectiveness in combating the inflow of economic migrants and slowing down their seemingly inevitable deportation. «It’s purely a technical problem,» Theodorou told reporters after visiting the immigration department. «We know where significant numbers of illegal immigrants are but a recent police operation to arrest and deport a large number of immigrants from Turkey had to be postponed, mainly because we didn’t have the room for them.» Authorities are trying to rectify the problem with a proposal to build a temporary detention center capable of housing 200 people. «This would double our capacity for detentions,» the minister said, adding that most of the illegal immigrants entered through the island’s Turkish-occupied northern sector.. Of the 151 suspects being held in police cells, 128 of them are awaiting deportation for entering the island illegally or working here illegally. Official estimates put the number of people working illegally in Cyprus at more than 40,000, the same as the number of non-EU nationals who work on the island legally. Since joining the European Union last May, Cyprus has rocketed to the top of the 25-member bloc’s asylum application league table. Police statistics show that in 2004, 2,558 people were arrested for entering the island illegally – mainly from Bangladesh, Syria, Iran, Iraq and Pakistan – while only 15 were granted asylum and a total of 2,800 were deported. In the first four months of 2005, 900 people were deported. Now the European Union’s easternmost outpost, Cyprus has beefed up sea and air patrols and introduced a coastal radar detection network in a bid to clamp down on the influx of illegal immigrants.