Cyprus suspends asylum applications for Syrians as arrivals rise

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This image provided by Cyprus shows its officials helping migrants and refugees in the sea near the coastal resort of Protaras, on the east side of the Mediterranean island [File: Joint Rescue Coordination Centre via AP]

More than 1,000 people have arrived in Cyprus on boats from Lebanon this month amid deepening tensions in the Middle East.

Cyprus has suspended the processing of asylum applications from Syrians following a sharp increase in arrivals this month, authorities say.

More than 1,000 people have arrived in Cyprus on boats from Lebanon this month amid deepening tensions in the Middle East.

The exodus has triggered calls from Nicosia to its European Union partners to do more to assist Lebanon, as well as reconsider the status of war-torn Syria, which is at present considered unsafe to repatriate asylum seekers.

“This is an emergency measure, it’s a difficult decision to protect the interests of Cyprus,” Cypriot President Nikos Christodoulides told reporters on Sunday.

Cyprus, the EU’s easternmost state and the closest to the Middle East, lies about 160km (100 miles) west of the shores of Lebanon or Syria.

It recorded more than 2,000 arrivals by sea in the first three months this year, compared with just 78 over the same period in 2023.

In practice, the measure means asylum seekers will be confined to two reception camps offering food and shelter, with no other benefit.

Those who choose to leave those facilities will automatically forfeit any kind of benefit and will not be allowed to work, government sources said.

Christodoulides visited Lebanon last week and is liaising with the European Commission on how Brussels could assist Beirut in halting the flows.

Lebanon, coping with a crippling economic crisis since 2019, hosts some 805,000 Syrian refugees registered with the United Nations, of which 90 percent live in poverty, the UN agency says.

Lebanese officials estimate the actual number is much higher, ranging between 1.5 and 2 million. Many have escaped the civil war in their country which entered its 14th year.

Cypriot Interior Minister Constantinos Ioannou last week visited Denmark, Czechia and Greece to drum up support for a push to get the EU to declare parts of Syria as safe. However, UN agencies, human rights groups, and Western governments maintain that Syria is not yet safe for repatriation.

SOURCE: NEWS AGENCIES

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