By legend the birthplace of the ancient Greek goddess of love Aphrodite, Cyprus' modern history has, in contrast, been dominated by tensions, its Greek and Turkish Cypriot communities both pawns and players in a sad game of distrust and violence.
It is there that I have decided to end my "Peace and Borders" mission. Cyprus has been divided since 1974 when Turkey invaded the northern part of the island in response to a military coup, which was backed by the military Junta in power in Greece, overthrowing the democratically elected President, Archbishop Makarios III. The island was effectively partitioned, with the northern third run by a Turkish Cypriot representation, recognised by Turkey only, and the southern two-thirds by the internationally-recognised government led by Greek Cypriots.
During my visit on 13-14 February, I was fortunate to meet with a number of civil society representatives, from both communities throughout the divided capital of Nicosia.
In the numerous passionate conversations I had, it became clear that the peaceful, sunny beauty of this island, the holiday resorts and the groups of tourists lounging in the terraces of the cafés are only one facet of Cyprus. The fragility of the relations between the two communities is hovering over the seemingly peaceful climate and must not be overseen.
With the northern part of the island economically largely dependant on Turkey (although Turkish Cypriots are EU citizens) and the EU acquis suspended until reunification is completed, exchange between both communities is a challenge. Even though 58% of Turkish Cypriots are positive about the EU (more than in the southern part of the island), the poor implementation of EU funds and the growing influence of Turkey weakens the EU's position.
Meanwhile, the island's geopolitical position reinforces its complex and problematic situation. Indeed, Cyprus' geographical proximity to politically and socially unstable countries, the inability to control areas north of the Buffer Zone as well as the lack of cooperation on behalf of Turkey, are among the main reasons to complicate further the state of affairs.
Despite the overall decrease in migrants arrivals towards EU Member States, Cyprus continues to experience substantial increase of up to 69% in comparison to the 2017. For the third year in a row, Cyprus remains the top destination per capita of all member states. With a population of approximately 850.000 people, Nicosia has granted protection and received applications for asylum that exceed 3.5% of its population.
Many migrants enter the island via the airport of the northern part, and then make their way into the southern part. The situation is rapidly becoming unsustainable, stretching the country's reception system, creating fears of a humanitarian crisis and populist reactions.
In view of the almost impossible circumstances faced by the Cypriots, Greek and Turkish communities alike, I must bow to the strength and courage shown by civil society organisations in both parts of Cyprus. These organisations are led by people whose families have all experienced violence, death and, for many, forced internal migration, following the troubles in the 70s.
We must not shy away from our responsibility as Europeans and do the utmost to raise awareness for the situation of Cyprus, whether that concerns migration or the ongoing challenges faced by the two separate communities in their attempts to strive for reunification.
The island faces permanent partition of its Greek and Turkish communities unless an agreement is swiftly reached. For that, increased exchange and bi-communal programmes must be seen as a priority, with culture, sports and education properly established as key vectors for dialogue and joint action.
Similarly, the necessity to raise the voices of young people and women was also underlined, driving bi-communal activities beyond the bubble of the "converted".
Overcoming boundaries, these people lead a daily fight for building understanding between the communities for each other's point of view, reconciling memories and hence creating a new, joint narrative for the island of Cyprus as a whole.
We should not oversee the big picture of the immense positive momentum that a sustainable peaceful solution will bring. Due to its geostrategic situation, Cyprus could be a true beacon and success story for the European Union as a project of peace and reconciliation - and fulfil its role as a bridge-builder to the Middle East, using this multiple cultural background and history of conflict and reconciliation as an asset for its common future.
EESC President Spokesperson
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