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Cyprus President to discuss spike in migrants with EU chief, visit Lebanon

April 5, 2024 at 7:08 pm

Cypriot President Nikos Christodoulides gives a speech at the Joint Rescue Coordination Centre (JRCC) near Larnaca’s international airport on April 2, 2024.[Photo by ETIENNE TORBEY/AFP via Getty Images]

Cypriot President, Nikos Christodoulides, will discuss with the head of the European Commission on Sunday an unprecedented surge in arrivals of mainly Syrian refugees this week on the island and he will then visit Lebanon on Monday, officials said, Reuters reports.

Authorities say they have been inundated by irregular crossings of Syrians in small boats in recent days, counting at least 800 arrivals since 31 March. Another 22 people arrived on Friday.

Cyprus, the European Union’s easternmost state, has been lobbying  hard for the bloc to boost assistance to Lebanon, which it says is the starting point of almost all the irregular crossings. They are occurring against a backdrop of escalating tensions in the Middle East.

More than 2,000 people made the 100 mile (161 km) sea crossing in the first three months of the year, compared to 78 over the same period in 2023.

READ: Italy PM in Beirut to discuss reducing tensions in southern Lebanon

Christodoulides will meet the president of the EU’s Executive Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, on the sidelines of a conference in Athens on Sunday, officials said, before travelling to Lebanon on Monday.

“The situation is exceptionally difficult,” said Cypriot Foreign Minister, Constantinos Kombos. He, the Interior Minister and the head of the military are due to accompany Christodoulides to Beirut.

Cyprus has, in the past, offered technical assistance to Lebanon to contain migrant outflows and says that, while the neighbouring state needs much more assistance, it should be contingent on better coordination on migration.

It also wants the EU to declare some parts of Syria safe, which Cyprus says could assist returns under strict conditions.

Cyprus has long been a refuge for people fleeing conflict in Lebanon, Syria and beyond. It took in thousands of Lebanese refugees fleeing the outbreak of civil war in the 1970s and the two countries have traditionally enjoyed close relations.

READ: Cyprus seeks EU help to stem surge of Syrian refugees from Lebanon