Cyprus on alert for 'hundreds' of Syrian refugees coming from Lebanon
A boat carrying 95 asylum-seekers reached Cyprus from Lebanon on Sunday, where passengers told interpreters that around 500 people were preparing to leave on the same route to Cyprus.
"This is the first time this situation has happened with such a large and organised operation underway from a single point in Lebanon," Loizos Hadjivasiliou, the director of the deputy welfare ministry, told Cypriot media.
Calling the surge of migrants "unprecedented," Hadjivasiliou said Lebanese authorities had been alerted to prevent the departure of the boats headed towards Cyprus.
Cypriot authorities also said they were preparing to receive hundreds of new arrivals if their attempts to stop them from leaving Lebanon failed.
Cyprus is the closest EU country to Lebanon and Syria, and in recent years, has faced a sharp increase in asylum-seekers arriving on its shores.
Analysts mainly attribute this increase in migration to the deteriorating economic situations in both Lebanon and Syria, which have been undergoing protected economic crises since 2019.
According to the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR), in the first nine months of 2022, 2,670 individuals "departed or attempted to depart irregularly from Lebanon," an over 130% increase from the year prior.
Cyprus now has the highest percentage of asylum seekers relative to its population in the EU.
It cooperates with the Lebanese authorities to stem the flow of refugees, signing bilateral agreements with its Interior Ministry to allow the deportation of asylum-seekers from Cyprus to Lebanon.
The two countries have formed a joint working committee to coordinate stopping migration to Cyprus and said that joint patrols of the Mediterranean are on the table.
"For every boat reaching Cyprus, three or four get intercepted by the Lebanese authorities," Hadjivasiliou said.
The coordination has earned criticism from human rights groups, which say denying migrants the chance to apply for asylum in Cyprus is a violation of its international obligations.
Rights groups have also said that deporting Syrians also exposes them to the risk of chain refoulment, as Lebanon has been sending Syrians who exit the country illegally back to their country since 2019.
Two Syrian refugees deported back to Lebanon sued the Cypriot government in the EU Court of Human Rights in April 2022 for what they said was a "pushback" of their boat.
On 15 September, Cyprus called on the EU to increase its financial support to Lebanon, calling it a "barrier" that prevents refugees from entering Europe.
"If Lebanon collapses, then all of Europe will have a problem," Cypriot Interior Minister Constantinos Ioannou wrote to the EU Commission Vice President.