Cyprus has stepped up attempts to stem the arrival of mainly Syrian refugees by boat from Lebanon. Cypriot coast guard patrols are on alert for traffickers’ boats making the 10-hour journey across the Mediterranean. The Cypriot authorities were warned to expect the arrival of “hundreds” of refugees after two boats carrying 95 people landed on Monday. They reported that 500 people had gathered at an undisclosed location on the Lebanese coast to await passage to Cyprus.
Cypriot interior minister Constantinos Ioannou said Cyprus has offered to provide Lebanon with speedboats, train personnel and carry out joint patrols to intercept sailings. Nicosia has also proposed funds to repair vessels carrying people to the island so they can return to Lebanon.
Syrian refugee numbers have grown since 2017 due to Lebanon’s economic collapse and have increased sharply since Syria recently plunged into economic crisis.
Nicosia has called on Brussels to provide financial aid and expertise to help Lebanon cope with 1.5 million Syrian refugees who are under pressure from Beirut to leave. Last week, the Lebanese army arrested and deported 1,200 Syrians seeking to enter Lebanon illegally along smuggling routes. The week before, the number was 1,000. Lebanon has also deported Syrians who have not renewed residence permits. Syrians are accused of being a burden on Lebanon at a time when 80 per cent of the population has slipped into poverty and the value of the currency has declined by 98 per cent.
Since Syrians have been denied entry to Turkey, traffickers have stepped up sailings from Lebanon to Cyprus, the nearest EU member country. As war refugees, Syrians should be granted asylum or protection by Cyprus once they arrive on EU soil although most want to move on to western Europe.
In 2022, Cyprus received 28,280 refugees and migrants, an 80 per cent increase on 2021. This year the number of asylum seekers has fallen dramatically as many potential arrivals have realised Cyprus is a dead end or have learned that Cyprus repatriates migrants without protection at the highest rate in Europe.
The UN says 16,775 people have been granted international protection in Cyprus and more than 30,000 applications are pending. Most applicants are Syrians and Afghans. The Republic of Cyprus, which has a population nearing one million, has the highest number of migrants per capita in the EU.
Arrivals have driven anti-migrant sentiment that has been exploited by right-wing Elam, the National Popular Front. In August, Elam members attacked legal migrants in the village of Chlorokas near Paphos and earlier this month 500 right-wingers assaulted migrants in Limassol. In response, several thousand Cypriots marched through the capital Nicosia chanting slogans that welcomed migrants.