11 Dec 2016 How many Cypriot refugees are there?

A couple of weeks ago, someone challenged me on Twitter for suggesting that there were around 162,000 original Greek Cypriot refugees (meaning those displaced in 1974 and thereafter). He or she (the profile picture was a blue egg with a made-up name, so we shall never know) said the Republic of Cyprus’ Ministry of Foreign Affairs cited 170,000 and that the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) cited 200,000.

“Nice job checking numbers,” he or she said. Probably, as intended, it bugged me, so I promised myself I would do some digging to see what the official sources say.

What the UNHCR says
The UNHC’s annual Statistical Yearbook (2014) has no statistics at all for internally displaced persons (IDPs) in Cyprus. A footnote directs you to the Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre (IDMC).

The IDMC has no tables of statistics, but there is an online report. Under the paragraph about 1974 it says: “Some 2,500 people were killed or went missing and about 210,000 people were displaced, including up to 162,000 Greek Cypriots (at least 30% of the community) and up to 48,000 Turkish Cypriots (at least 40% of the community) (GRC, 2007; Denktash, 1982)”. This corresponds to the 162,000 I referred to during my Twitter conversation.

One can see from the rest of the text that GRC refers to the government of the Republic of Cyprus, although it is not clear whether 2007 refers to a publication or a website. Incidentally, the same text says 25,000 Turkish Cypriots were displaced in 1964, of which around 1,300 had returned by 1970.

Towards the end of the text, it says: “The GRC reports that there are currently about 200,000 Greek Cypriot IDPs”. It also says: “According to the RoC Civil Registry and Migration Department, 200,457 people hold the Refugee Identity Card, including over 27,000 children and 34,000 elderly people. Some 146,000 of them were themselves displaced in 1974 (GRC, March 2009).”

I think we can now see why one often hears about 200,000 Greek Cypriot refugees. It can either mean that 200,000 Greek and Turkish Cypriots were displaced in 1974, or it can mean that Greek Cypriots with Refugee Identity Cards, including those who were not alive in 1974, amount to around 200,000.

What Republic of Cyprus sources say today
Now let’s take a look at what current Republic of Cyprus sources say. As the person on Twitter said, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs does indeed cite “approximately 170,000”. The Press and Information Office also says “some 170,000”.

I suspect this is a case of what I have previously referred to as Cyprus problem number inflation. I assume it is based on 162,000, then rounded up to 170,000.

Referring to 1974, another Republic of Cyprus publication, entitled ‘Republic of Cyprus from 1960 to the Present Day’ and published by the Press and Information Office in 2013, says: “About 200,000 Greek Cypriots – over a third of the population – were displaced, becoming refugees in their own country”. This figure could, in fact, be referring to both Greek and Turkish Cypriot displaced. Another possibility is that it counts the temporarily displaced. For example, I know people with homes close to the buffer zone who fled to their mountain villages and returned at the end of the summer.

What the 1973 census implies
We also have the April 1973 “micro-census”. It was called a micro-census because officials were not given access to the Turkish Cypriot enclaves, and so had to estimate the Turkish Cypriot numbers.


According to the census, in 1973 there were 27,084 Greek Cypriots in Kyrenia and 102,005 in Famagusta (which includes the Karpas region). This means that, barring a few people in the Ayia Napa and Protaras area, at least 129,089 Greek Cypriots were displaced from 1974 onwards (many from Karpassia left in later years).

The census estimated that there were 14,000 Turkish Cypriots in Larnaca, 15,000 in Limassol and 15,000 in Paphos, yielding a minimum of 44,000 Turkish Cypriots, who must have been displaced from 1974 onwards.

Adding those together yields a minimum number of Greek and Turkish Cypriot displaced of 173,089.
If we accept 162,000 as the number of Greek Cypriot displaced, and deduct the 129,089 Greek Cypriots living in Famagusta and Kyrenia, the rest must have come from greater Morphou, which had a Greek Cypriot population of 33,327 in 1973.

The impact of emigration
Another approach is to compare 1973 and 1976 figures from the Statistical Service (Cystat). Cystat gives a population of 631,778 in 1973 (the same as the census) and 497,879 in 1976, implying a net decline of around 133,899 Greek and Turkish Cypriots living in areas under Republic of Cyprus control.

However, people were born in this period, so we need to add natural increase in the government-controlled areas. This was 12,097 (Greek Cypriots only) in the 1974-76 period, which brings the decline to 145,996.

Then we should add net emigration (that is, net of anyone arriving, which was probably not many back then). Net emigration spiked over 1974-76, amounting to 32,598 (Greek Cypriots only) according to Cystat. This brings the total decline to 178,594.

Finally, we need to make estimates for Turkish Cypriot natural increase and net emigration. If we assume Turkish Cypriot natural increase was the same proportion of the 1973 population as Greek Cypriot natural increase, then we estimate 2,815 natural increase for Turkish Cypriots. This brings the loss to 181,409.

Finally, if we assume Turkish Cypriot emigration was the same as a proportion of the 1973 population, as Greek Cypriots, then we estimate Turkish Cypriot emigration of 7,585.

The total decline in the Greek and Turkish Cypriot population in the government-controlled areas between 1973 and 1976 therefore comes to 188,994—lower, but not too far off those estimates saying there were 200,000 Greek and Turkish Cypriots displaced.


Since we are pretty sure that 44,000 Turkish Cypriots left Larnaca, Limassol and Paphos, and there is a lot less argument about the number of Turkish Cypriot displaced, the 188,994 number implies that the number of Greek Cypriots displaced in 1974-76 was 144,994. This is higher than the number of Greek Cypriots in Famagusta and Kyrenia, but close to the 146,000 Refugee Identity Card holders who were displaced in 1974. However, it does not explain the number who must have died in the meantime.

As always, when it comes to the Cyprus problem, there are no easy answers.