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Cyprus’s president calls on the EU to take action against the influx of Syrian refugees from Lebanon

The president of Cyprus said on Tuesday he had personally asked the head of the European Union’s executive branch to intervene with Lebanese authorities so they could stop shiploads of Syrian refugees from traveling to the eastern Mediterranean island nation.

President Nikos Christodoulides told reporters that Lebanon is in favor of significant EU financial aid for both its own citizens and the hundreds of thousands of Syrian refugees it continues to host, but that is not without conditions.

“This help cannot be provided as long as we are dealing with this issue,” Christodoulides said, adding that he had personally spoken to EU Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen. “Given the phenomena we have seen in recent days, not only the Republic of Cyprus but also the EU itself is facing a serious problem.”

29 migrants rescued from boat off the coast of a Greek island

According to Cypriot government spokesman Constantinos Letymbiotis, more than 350 migrants and asylum seekers, almost exclusively Syrian nationals, have arrived in Cyprus by boat in the last 48 hours. More shiploads of migrants are believed to be on the way.

Cyprus's President addresses the United Nations General Assembly

Cyprus President Nikos Christodoulides speaks at the 78th session of the United Nations General Assembly, Wednesday, September 20, 2023. (AP Photo/Richard Drew)

Last month, around 450 Syrian migrants were spotted aboard six boats off the southeast coast of Cyprus in 24 hours. All six boats had left Lebanon.

The EU is ready to give Lebanon more money to cope with the large number of refugees it hosts, but “for this to happen, Lebanon should not allow migrants to leave the country and come to Cyprus,” Christodoulides said.

The Cypriot president said the recent influx of Syrian migrants across the sea had put Cyprus back in “crisis mode”, although in recent months it has managed to repatriate more migrants whose asylum claims were rejected than arriving migrants.

Christodoulides led an ad hoc meeting of senior police and government officials on Tuesday to find ways to deal with the sudden influx of migrants.

He said his government could take additional, temporary measures to help authorities deal with the influx, which may not be to the liking of Cypriots. He didn’t elaborate.

Meanwhile, Cyprus said a government proposal to allow the repatriation of Syrian refugees by designating certain areas within the country as safe zones is “gaining ground” among the island nation’s other EU member states.

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Justice Minister Constantinos Ioannou said it was up to the EU to take a common decision on Syria, given the potential threat of the Israeli-Hamas war in Gaza spreading to Lebanon and other Middle Eastern states.

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