Cyprus beefs up efforts to stop irregular migration, patrol off Lebanon

By Thomson Reuters Apr 17, 2024 | 6:34 AM

NICOSIA (Reuters) – A Cypriot law enforcement vessel was off the coast of Lebanon on Wednesday amid reports Cyprus was beefing up efforts to prevent Syrian refugees reaching the island on small boats.

An advocacy group reported that up to five boatloads of refugees were being prevented from sailing onward because of the presence of the vessel. Authorities in Cyprus declined comment.

Nicosia last weekend announced it was suspending the processing of asylum applications amid a sharp increase in the number of Syrians arriving in Cyprus from Lebanon. It wants its European Union partners to reconsider the status of Syria, now out of bounds for returns.

One Cypriot maritime police patrol vessel, the Evagoras, was seen on ship tracking websites in international waters off the coast of Tripoli in Lebanon.

“These people are trapped in a cruel and dangerous game between Cyprus and Lebanon and remain at sea with no food or water and in urgent need of help,” Alarmphone, an advocacy group, wrote on X.

Cyprus police, the interior ministry and a government spokesperson declined any comment.

“We have taken some other measures to avert arrivals, such as those announced which concern suspending assessment of new asylum applications,” said Interior Minister Constantinos Ioannou. He declined to comment specifically on the presence of the Cypriot vessel off Lebanon.

Suspending the examination of asylum requests means new arrivals will either have to stay in government reception camps with food and shelter and regulated exits, or live elsewhere and forfeit any right to a benefit.

Cyprus says the EU already has an assessment by its own asylum agency, the EUAA, that two governates in Syria – Damascus and Tartous – present no real risk to civilians of falling victim to indiscriminate violence.

(Reporting by Michele Kambas; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama)