Cyprus 'deeply concerned' by increase of migrants from Lebanon and Syria

Cyprus 'deeply concerned' by increase of migrants from Lebanon and Syria
More than 500 migrants arrived in Cyprus over the weekend, raising the population of the country's primary refugee camp to an annual high.
2 min read
03 April, 2024
Cyprus has called for the EU to designate certain areas in Syria as safe for refugee returns. [Getty]

Cypriot authorities expressed concern on Tuesday after more than 500 migrants arrived on the island over the weekend, most of them originating from Lebanon and Syria.

Cypriot President Nikos Christodoulides said that the continual rise of Syrian refugees arriving in Cyrus in recent weeks was "deeply concerning."

"I fully understand the challenges Lebanon is facing, but exporting migrants to Cyprus should not be the answer and cannot be accepted," Christodoulides said.

The influx of migrants has caused the population of the country's primary refugee camp, Pounara, to reach an annual high.

The country has the EU's highest rate of asylum seekers per capita. Though the total number of migrants coming to the island has decreased this year, there has been a sharp increase from Lebanon and Syria in the same period.

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Lebanon hosts up to 1.5 million Syrian refugees, which has become a contested issue and lightning rod for xenophobia in domestic politics since the country's economic collapse in 2019.

On Tuesday, Lebanon's Minister of Social Affairs, Hector Hajjar, announced plans to conduct a "comprehensive survey" of Syrians in Lebanon to see who meets the criteria of deserving refugee protection status.

Hajjar said those not meeting the criteria will either be resettled to a third country or returned to their home country.

Cyprus has similarly called on the EU to reclassify certain parts of Syria as "safe" for refugee returns so that it can return Syrians it hosts.

Human rights organisations have said that Syria is still not safe for refugee returns, pointing to abuses carried out by security services against returnees, including detention, torture, sexual assault and even murder.

In 2020, Cyprus and Lebanon signed a bilateral agreement that allowed the former to return any migrants who originated from Lebanon back to Lebanon.

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However, on 12 February, Lebanon refused to receive a boat carrying Syrian refugees from Lebanon to Cyprus.

Cyprus has called for the EU to increase funding to Lebanon to prevent migrants from reaching the island's shores.

In late March, EU commissioner Margaritis Schinas announced that the EU was trying to reach a migrant deal with Lebanon, as it had done with Egypt earlier.