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Cyprus Asks EU to Curb Syrian Refugee Surge from Lebanon

Cyprus requests help from EU to reduce the number of mostly Syrian migrants coming to the island via Lebanon.
Cyprus requests help from EU to reduce the number of mostly Syrian migrants coming to the island via Lebanon. Credit: Mstyslav Chernov. CC BY-4.0/Wikimedia Commons/Mstyslav Chernov

Cyprus has beseeched the European Union to take vigorous action to curtail a recent surge of primarily Syrian refugees arriving by sea via Lebanon, claiming the island’s reception capacity is nearing breaking point.

At least 600 Syrians have reportedly arrived in Cyprus over the past four days on small boats, motivated by relatively calm weather, having made the approximately ten-hour journey from either Lebanon or Syria.

Cypriot President Nikos Christodoulides remarked at a recent cabinet meeting that there is a serious crisis with these almost daily arrivals, with the country’s interior minister also commenting on the situation on state radio.

“The situation is getting progressively worse, and in the past few days we have essentially been experiencing an onslaught of rotting boats and refugees putting their lives at risk,” said Constantinos Ioannou, Cyprus’s interior minister.

“All indications are that it will continue,” Ioannou added about the increase in arrivals.
The migration puzzle is becoming increasingly complex in the Middle East, being fuelled by the Lebanese authorities’ partial loss of focus on stemming migration at its coastline, amid escalating tensions on the Lebanese-Israeli border, Ioannou said.

Around 2,004 people arrived in Cyprus by sea in the first three months of this year, compared with just 78 in the same period in 2023, according to official data.

Christodoulides, who exclaimed on Tuesday that Lebanon should not “export” its migration issue, said he had a phone conversation with Lebanese caretaker Prime Minister Najib Mikati about the situation. Lebanon plays host to hundreds of thousands of refugees.

Cyprus and its History of Syrian Refugee Intake via Lebanon

Largely ignored by traffickers in the past due to its solitude from the rest of contiguous Europe, Cyprus has experienced a surge in arrivals mostly from Syria and Lebanon because it is cheaper and easier to reach relative to other destinations – and because of the draw of a steadily growing Syrian population on the island itself.

Based on interviews with refugees, traffickers were asking for $3,000 for a journey to Cyprus, compared with $7,000 for Italy, Ioannou told state radio.

Cyprus has been appealing for a long time to its EU partners to declare parts of war-ravaged Syria safe, which may facilitate the return of its exited citizens. It also pushed for EU aid to Lebanon to be contingent upon stopping the migrant exodus, Ioannou said.
According to him, traffickers simply give those fleeing a compass set at 285 degrees, along with food and water for a day.

In 2019, Cyprus was the country with the highest number of asylum seekers in relation to its population, with most coming from Syria, India, Bangladesh, and Pakistan. That year, asylum seekers accounted for four percent of the total population.

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