As part of a multi-million dollar deal between Cyprus and the European Union, millions of illegal migrants who traveled the Cypriot border with Greece were granted passports by order of the government. The fake passports were provided to desperate asylum seekers who could not afford the massive €200 to €300 applications, as well as to businessmen and members of the military seeking a visa to enter Europe’s passport-free Schengen area.
But allegations of corruption have put an end to the program. “Effective immediately, a halt to the process of issuing travel documents is in force,” President Nicos Anastasiades said in a letter to the Cypriot President, Martin Christoforou, on Oct. 16. “We will have a permanent freeze on providing documents to all those who came to the border without an official entry visa.”
The closure is designed to halt the potential involvement of European authorities in the alleged bribery and trafficking network, which was uncovered during a probe into a yacht that was detained by Cypriot police earlier this year. The yacht, with a cargo of around 1,100 empty counterfeit passports, was sent to a shipyard in Greece on March 14, where police rescued some of the migrants on board and arrested the ship’s captain.
The European Commission, in particular, expressed concern over the possibility that applications for fake Schengen passports were not only used to bring migrants illegally into the Schengen area, but also to deliver their cargo. “We note the recent measures taken by the Cypriot authorities to temporarily stop the issuing of Schengen-legitimized passports to those without the necessary documents,” spokesperson for the European Commission spokeswoman, Alexandra Starcevic said in a statement.