EU prepares for possible influx


REFUGEES:THE EUROPEAN Union is preparing for the possibility of having to deal with up to 200,000 refugees – EU passport-holders and others – from the war in Syria.

The model is the 2006 evacuation from Lebanon, then under Israeli attack, to Cyprus of tens of thousands of foreigners, according to Cypriot foreign minister Erato Kozakou-Marcoullis, who spoke to journalists yesterday in the wake of Wednesday’s bombing in central Damascus and subsequent upsurge in fighting.

At present, refugees from the war are travelling mainly to Lebanon, which is experiencing increasing difficulty in coping and is in danger of instability as tensions rise between ethnic groupings that reflect divisions in Syria.

Ms Kozakou-Marcoullis said that if the EU had to take action, Cyprus, assisted by other member states, would host evacuees for 48 hours while their embassies made arrangements for repatriation.

She said, however, that the EU did not have a plan for members of Syria’s Christian, heterodox Shia Alawite and other minority communities who might be trapped in coastal enclaves or by rebels seeking revenge for the support these groups have given to the secular Assad regime.

Cyprus, which holds the EU’s rotating presidency, was giving “priority to the southern dimension of Mediterranean policy”, said the foreign minister. There was agreement between member states that, as she put it, “Bashar has to go”. She said the Syrian government could be part of negotiations and the transition, but not Assad himself.

Cyprus “opposes any military intervention”, said Ms Kozakou-Marcoullis, making the point that the island lies 100km off the coast of Syria, and the same distance off the coast of Lebanon.