Cyprus seeks change in Syria’s war-torn status

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Cyprus is taking an initiative for the European Union to re-evaluate Syria’s status as a war-torn country that prevents EU states from returning refugees seeking refuge in the bloc.

In comments to the media on Friday, Interior Minister Constantinos Ioannou said he would take the initiative to convince Brussels and the United Nations.

The minister was talking after a meeting with DIKO president Nicolas Papadopoulos.

“There is fertile ground in other Member States as well.

“I am planning a trip to Geneva for a meeting with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), which has a role in this issue,” said Ioannou.

He added that Syria’s status has been unchanged for the past 11 years.

Ioannou argued: “There are already two areas recognised by the EU Asylum Agency (EUAA) as safe areas.

“So, it must now also be recognised at the level of the European Union, allowing us to deport or return people to Syria.

“At the moment, no country can do so.”

In a letter to the Vice-President of the European Commission Margaritis Schinas, Ioannou said he urgently raised the need for aid to Lebanon, where it is estimated that 2.5 million Syrians live.

“The information we have from the authorities in Lebanon is that there is an increase in Syrians moving to Lebanon.

“Lebanon is a barrier. If Lebanon collapses, then all of Europe will have a problem,” he said.

The minister said he had updated DIKO on the government’s immigration policies, noting that it “is a complex problem with many dimensions and no easy solutions”.

“We as a government have a specific plan, a specific strategy.

“We are already seeing the first results.”

Cyprus has seen a surge of mainly Syrians arriving by boat from Syria and some from Lebanon.

He added, “There is a moderate optimism”, noting the government has succeeded in reducing arrivals of irregular migrants by 50%, thanks to external factors as well as specific measures taken.

“We have managed to increase returns by 50% from 3,200 to 4,700, whether they are voluntary, which we have invested a lot in this part, or with deportations”.

“We are upgrading the infrastructure.

“We have doubled the number of examiners (asylum applications) – which was also a pre-election commitment of President Nikos Christodoulides.

“The examination time of asylum applications has been reduced from nine months to three months.”

He said the government aims “to reduce the financial benefits for asylum seekers to make Cyprus an unattractive destination”.