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06NICOSIA721 2006-05-17 12:48:00 UNCLASSIFIED Embassy Nicosia
Cable title:  

Turkish Cypriot Areas Become Active Transit Point

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DE RUEHNC #0721/01 1371248
P 171248Z MAY 06
					  UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 05 NICOSIA 000721 



E.O. 12958: N/A
SUBJECT: Turkish Cypriot Areas Become Active Transit Point
for Illegal Migrants

Ref: 05 Nicosia 1766

NICOSIA 00000721 001.2 OF 005


1. Located along a heavily-used migration route and
hobbled by weak border controls, the area administered by
Turkish Cypriots - the unrecognized "Turkish Republic of
Northern Cyprus (TRNC)" - is becoming an attractive transit
point for undocumented economic migrants, especially from
the Middle East and Asia. Increasingly well-organized
international smuggling rings deliver migrants by boat to
the lightly-patrolled northern shore of the island, while
others take advantage of lax enforcement or police
corruption to smuggle people through regular ports of entry.
Migrants then find their way across the "Green Line" (UN-
controlled buffer zone) into the south, where they are in
the EU and can seek asylum or try for onward passage to
other EU countries. While we do not have reliable
statistics on this flow, anecdotal evidence suggests numbers
are increasing and that better border enforcement in Greece
and other nearby countries will likely push more migrants
toward Cyprus. Turkish Cypriot authorities have announced
plans to hire more police and increase coastal patrols and
scrutiny at ports of entry. They have also increased
penalties both for illegal migrants and the smugglers who
assist them. It remains to be seen whether the
underfunded, undertrained, and underequipped "TRNC" police
can put a real dent in the growing flow of migrants through
the north. End summary.


An Attractive Transit Point


2. The Turkish-Cypriot controlled northern part of Cyprus
sits astride a millenia-old trade and smuggling route
between the Middle East and Europe, and has become an
attractive transit point for illegal migrants -- especially
since the 2004 accession of the (southern, Greek-Cypriot
administered) Republic of Cyprus (ROC) to the European
Union. These migrants appear to be coming mainly for
economic reasons, but at least some are more traditional
asylum seekers fleeing from political unrest or physical
danger in their home countries. Illegal migrants reportedly
pay between USD 2,000 - 5,000 a piece to be smuggled to the
"TRNC," and from there southward to the ROC.

3. According to Turkish Cypriot press reports, most
illegal immigrants are transported to the north of the
island via small shipping boats and dropped off on deserted
beaches along the "TRNC's" 396-km coast line. The isolated
Karpass peninsula at the eastern tip of the island - only
110 km from Syria, but sufficiently far away from more
densely populated and patrolled coastal cities - is an
important landing point for illegal immigrants who arrive by
sea. Migrants reportedly also hide on ferries that run from
mainland Turkish ports to the Turkish Cypriot cities of
Kyrenia and Famagusta. Although in most cases migrants are
reportedly aware of their route, some have told Turkish
Cypriot police that they thought they were being dropped off
on the coast of Italy.

4. Once ashore in the "TRNC," most migrants seek passage
across the Green Line into the ROC-controlled areas, where
they are inside EU territory and free to apply for asylum.
Although the migrants often pass to the Greek Cypriot south
through unprotected gaps in the U.N.-patrolled buffer zone,
some cross at regular vehicular and pedestrian checkpoints.
Those using checkpoints are sometimes hidden in trucks or
cars by smugglers, while others rely on bribery, fraudulent
documents or lax enforcement to get south.




5. Turkish Cypriot sources report that most human
smuggling is conducted by a handful of former immigrants who
work with organized networks in Turkey. One of these
immigrant families is reportedly the Tavil family, which

NICOSIA 00000721 002.2 OF 005

migrated to the "TRNC" from Syria in 1999. Since then,
Muhammad Tavil (variant is "Taweel" in Arabic) and his sons
Sait and Firaz (variants "Sa'eed and "Firas" in Arabic)
Tavil have reportedly been involved in numerous smuggling
cases, where they assisted immigrants travel through the
"TRNC" into the south. The Tavil family is also blamed for
a well-publicized incident on September 27, 2005, when a
boat full of illegal immigrants capsized off the Karpass
coast, killing as many as 35 people.

6. The Tavil family is not alone. High profit margins
have attracted increasing numbers of well-organized groups
to the migrant smuggling business in the north. On April
11, 2005, local press reported the arrest of a 28-member
Turkish Cypriot smuggling ring that had brought undocumented
migrants from the Middle East and south Asia to the "TRNC"
and then onto the ROC. The group was busted when several
Syrians, who had entered the "TRNC" with fake passports,
attempted to cross south through a Green Line checkpoint.
Ten of the arrested suspects were policemen, some of whom
worked as immigration officers at the north's Ercan airport,
while others had been stationed along the buffer zone with
the south. The civilians arrested in this police operation
were also reported to have organized crime connections in

7. Cases like this suggest that alien smuggling through
the north is more than a mom-and-pop cottage industry -- but
increasingly the work of well-organized, internationally
integrated criminal enterprises with the resources and
willingness to bribe or otherwise coerce local officials.



The Changing Profile of EU-bound Migrants



8. Those migrants seeking to cross south through the
"TRNC" appear to come mainly from Middle Eastern and Asian
countries. Reports from the local press and from Turkish
Cypriot officials suggest that these are largely bogus
asylum-seekers seeking economic opportunity in a European

9. According to arrest statistics from Turkish Cypriot
authorities, in 2005 the majority of illegal immigrants came
from Syria (58%), Bangladesh (10%), Iran (9%), and Pakistan
(5%). It is notable that until 2003, most migrants were
Iraqis escaping the Saddam Hussein regime, whereas Turkish
Cypriot police did not arrest any Iraqis in 2004 or 2005.

10. According to statistics obtained from the "TRNC
attorney general's" office, the number of prosecutions
related to illegal immigration increased from 105 in 2003 to
132 in 2004, when Cyprus entered the EU. In 2005, 135
people were arrested on illegal immigration and human
smuggling charges.

11. The number of illegal immigrants deported without
prosecution is much higher - police records indicate that
359 illegal migrants were apprehended in 2004 and 185 were
caught in 2005. Most of those apprehended were immediately
deported because the "TRNC" lacks sufficient funding and
facilities to house more than a handful of illegal migrants.

12. Turkish Cypriot law enforcement can implement such a
catch-and-deport policy because the "TRNC" does not
currently have legislation allowing for asylum applications,
nor is the unrecognized "TRNC" a party to any international
treaty or agreement that would mandate a fair hearing for
asylum seekers before deportation. In early May, however,
the north's largest newspaper reported that local UN
Representatives had asked Turkish Cypriot authorities to
stop extraditing illegal immigrants back to their countries
of origin, requesting instead that the "TRNC" hand illegal
migrants over to the UNHCR. Protective of their
"sovereignty" and eager to be seen living up to European
standards, the Turkish Cypriot authorities replied by
announcing plans for EU-compatible legislation that would
recognize international agreements on rights of refugees.
The legislation would also grant refugees apprehended in the
"TRNC" the right of non-extradition.

13. There is no way to estimate how many illegal migrants
manage to slip through without being detected, but the

NICOSIA 00000721 003.2 OF 005

number is almost certainly much higher than Turkish Cypriot
authorities report. EU member state Embassies in Cyprus
regularly tell us of their concerns about what they
characterize as a steady flow of undocumented, EU-bound
migrants who cross the green line.


Barriers to More Effective Enforcement



14. Turkish Cypriot authorities claim that the level of
police control at the north's ports of entry has increased
significantly since the implementation of a new immigration
law in 2005 (see section on "settlers" below). Nonetheless,
our observation is that the quality of the north's border
control still varies significantly. The Turkish Cypriot
police responsible for the north's frontier controls answer
directly to the local Turkish military garrison, which has
not historically placed a high priority on control of
economic migrants. As a result, Turkish Cypriot police are
generally underfunded and short on modern equipment. Police
training has also lagged for the same reason.

15. Meanwhile, Greek Cypriot (ROC) police patrolling the
southern edge of the Green Line do not recognize the
"illegal TRNC," and therefore fastidiously avoid any
measures (including strict and regular, consistent document
checks at checkpoints) that might legitimize the Green Line
as an international border. They steadfastly refuse even
basic cooperation with their Turkish Cypriot counterparts.

16. UNFICYP forces, numbering approximately 850, make an
effort to control the 220-km-long buffer zone, but do not
have sufficient personnel to seal the Green Line off to
determined migrants and smugglers. Migrants captured by the
UN in the buffer zone must be turned over to the recognized
ROC authorities - so those who successfully make it into the
buffer zone, even if captured there, are afterwards
delivered to authorities in the south where they can apply
for asylum. In most cases they are released pending a
hearing. There have been credible reports of corruption
among police on both sides of the Green Line although
UNFICYP has not been the subject of any corruption
allegations as far as we are aware.

17. Several other factors limit the ability of Turkish
Cypriot authorities to clamp down on illegal migration. The
"TRNC's" lack of political ties with any country other than
Turkey renders government-to-government information sharing,
training, and equipment donation highly problematic
(although both the U.S. and UK have sought opportunities to
provide limited training on matters such as document fraud
detection to Turkish Cypriot officials in their "personal

18. "TRNC" legislative barriers also hamper the effective
control of illegal migration through the north. Penalties
for smugglers and illegal immigrants (which until recently
were limited to USD 1 in fines and/or six months in jail)
were acknowledged as insufficient to deter smugglers and
illegal migrants. Until early 2006, immigration matters
were governed by a 1952 law inherited from British colonial
times, which - despite being amended in 1982 - remained
largely ineffective, in part because the fines provided for
had not been adjusted for inflation. In April 2006,
however, the Turkish Cypriot "legislature" approved an
amendment to this law, raising the maximum fine both for
illegal immigrants and human smugglers to USD 7,500. It
also raised the maximum prison sentence to three years.


Turkish "Settlers"


19. In addition to the increasing number of third-country
migrants, the Turkish Cypriot authorities must also contend
with a large number of mainland Turkish "settlers." Some of
these came to the north immediately after the 1974 war and
have integrated well, while others who came more recently as
economic migrants remain socially and economically
marginalized in Turkish Cypriot society. Historically, the
Turkish Cypriot authorities adopted a very permissive
attitude toward Turkish immigrants - allowing them to stay
in order to develop the "TRNC" economy and to change the

NICOSIA 00000721 004.2 OF 005

island's demographic ratio, which has always favored Greek
Cypriots. Credible estimates on the overall number of
settlers (both documented and undocumented) run as high as
half the north's population (i.e., well over 100,000).

20. For a variety of political and economic reasons,
however, "TRNC" authorities have implemented new measures to
control the number of mainland Turks on the island (reftel).
In 2004, the Turkish Cypriots passed a law to register these
mainland Turks, introducing provisions to kick out those who
had overstayed or come to work without permission - and
punishing those who employ them. Since the law came into
force in 2005, Turkish Cypriot authorities claim to have
registered approximately 30,000 Anatolian economic migrants.
Anecdotal evidence suggests that many of those who could not
be registered have indeed left the island. But it is
unclear how many undocumented Turks have either gone to
ground and remained in the country, or snuck back in after
leaving for a short time.

21. "Government" plans to fund a 50-percent increase in
the overall size of the police force (from about 2000 to
about 3000) are still on the drawing board, but may improve
the "TRNC's" ability to enforce its laws on both Turkish and
third-country migrants. Furthermore, the current Turkish
Cypriot leadership appears to be pressing Turkey to transfer
to it control of the police. Meanwhile, the ROC (which
aspires to join the Schengen Agreement) may face increasing
pressure from its EU partners to take a more serious and
pragmatic approach to controlling the southward flow of
migrants - especially since the prospect of visa-free,
control-free travel from Cyprus to the rest of the EU is
certain to increase the island's desirability as a
destination for illegal immigrants.




22. Turkish Cypriot media covers migration-related stories
extensively. The following sampling of recent press reports
gives an anecdotal flavor of the flow of illegal migrants
through the "TRNC."

-- "Kibris" newspaper reported that on March 30, 2006, 19
Syrians were arrested after they attempted to be smuggled
into the "TRNC," and from there to the south; they were
hidden behind rows of bricks on a truck that arrived by ship
at the port of Famagusta. The truck driver and a Famagusta
businessman who had reportedly colluded with him were also

-- Only a few days later, "Ankara Anatolia" reported that a
group of 22 Syrians were captured on April 10, 2006 trying
to enter the "TRNC" illegally in order to head south. The
migrants were deported back to Turkey.

-- "Yeniduzen" newspaper reported that on April 12, 2006,
three Syrians were arrested by the Turkish Cypriot
authorities while trying to enter the "TRNC" with a small
boat at the coast near the city of Guzelyurt (Morphou).

-- "Kibrisli" newspaper reported that on April 23, 2006, 24
Syrians were arrested together with six people who assisted
them. They attempted to enter the country by hiding in the
back of a truck that arrived on a ferry from Turkey.

-- "Kibris" newspaper reported on May 10, 2006 that a total
of 23 Syrians were arrested for illegally entering the
"TRNC" off the coast of Kyrenia, and from there south to the
roc-controlled areas. One Turkish Cypriot and three Greek
Cypriots also were arrested in relation to this incident.




23. The current Turkish Cypriot administration, which came
to power in early 2004 on the promise of supporting
reunification of the island and integration with the EU, has
taken several steps to improve the transparency of
governance in the "TRNC" - including passing measures to
regulate the number of Turkish settlers and belatedly waking
up to the north's significant TIP/sexual exploitation

NICOSIA 00000721 005.2 OF 005

problem (reported septels). Popular concern over the
apparent increase in illegal immigrants means that measures
to combat economically motivated migrant smuggling (such as
the April legislation to increase penalties) enjoy strong
popular support among Turkish Cypriot voters. It remains
unclear, however, whether Turkish Cypriot authorities (who
do not exercise direct control over their own law
enforcement organizations, which still answer to the Turkish
army) will be able to stem the steady flow of EU-bound
migration in the face of persistent resource shortages, poor
training, corruption, and the lack of meaningful cooperation
with Greek Cypriot and third-country law enforcement. While
the "TRNC" has not yet witnessed the kind of large-scale
alien smuggling seen in Italy, Greece, or Spain, it is
likely to see a continuing increase in the number of
undocumented immigrants unless these problems are addressed.
End Comment.