Daniel Ejube (left) and Grace Enjei (right), two Cameroonians stranded in the buffer zone in Nicosia for six months, will accompany the Pope to Italy on December 3, 2021 Roy ISSA
Two Cameroonians stranded for months in the buffer zone separating the two parts of the divided island of Cyprus are among the group of 50 migrants who will be transferred to Italy after a two-day visit by Pope Francis to Nicosia, local authorities said on Friday.
“It’s the happiest day of my life,” exclaimed Daniel Ejube, 20, as he left the Church of the Holy Cross in the Cypriot capital, where the Sovereign Pontiff presided over an ecumenical prayer with migrants.
“I thank the Pope for all he has done,” added the Cameroonian migrant who, along with Grace Enjei, 24, has been stranded since the end of May in the demilitarized zone administered by the United Nations peacekeepers in Nicosia, the last divided capital in the world.
Cyprus has been divided since the invasion of the north of the island by the Turkish army in 1974 in reaction to a coup d’état by Greek-Cypriot nationalists wishing to reattach this country to Greece.
Arrived in the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (TRNC, self-proclaimed and recognized only by Ankara), the two young Cameroonians tried to cross the demarcation line in Nicosia on May 24, in the hope of obtaining asylum in the Republic of Cyprus. , internationally recognized and member of the European Union. But they were turned back by the Cypriot authorities.
The two migrants are stuck since between two checkpoints of the almost “no man’s land” arched with barbed wire which separates the north and the south of the island.
As the TRNC did not have an asylum system in place, Cameroonians risked being considered illegal and deported to their country of origin if they attempted to turn back north.
During the past six months, the young migrants have been able to survive thanks to the help of the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR), as well as several Cypriot NGOs which have provided them with food, bed linen and legal assistance.
– “Important initiative” –
The pope, who has put the migration issue at the heart of his visit, must take 50 migrants, including 10 irregular migrants detained, with him in Italy, according to Nicosia.
The Cypriot Interior Ministry thanked the Pope for his “important initiative”, while confirming that two Cameroonians “stranded in the buffer zone” separating the two parts of the divided island were among the migrants who were to leave with the sovereign pontiff.
The ministry also accused Turkey of “instrumentalizing migration in Cyprus”, calling on “European partners” to show “solidarity” with Nicosia in the face of “the difficulties linked to the growing flow of migrants”.
The situation of migrants crossing the demarcation line is “extremely worrying,” Katja Saha, UNHCR spokesperson in Cyprus, told AFP, adding that they are denied the right to apply for asylum, which pushes them to “use smugglers” to cross the border.
In his ecumenical prayer to migrants, Pope Francis called to “open your eyes” to the “slavery” and “torture” that migrants undergo in the camps, drawing a parallel with World War II.
In 2016, the Sovereign Pontiff had already brought three Syrian families from Lesbos (Greece) to Rome, the main point of entry for migrants into Europe.
The Republic of Cyprus claims that some 10,000 irregular migrants arrived in the first ten months of the year, most of them from the north of the island.
In relation to its population, it says it records the largest number of first-time asylum seekers in Europe.