Cypriot authorities said Tuesday they have information that around 500 irregular Syrian migrants are preparing to depart on boats from nearby Lebanon to the island.
Interior Minister Constantinos Ioannou has instructed the Cypriot authorities to prepare for a possible mass departure of migrants from Lebanon to Cyprus, officials said.
Interior Ministry spokesperson Loizos Hadjivasiliou told the Cyprus News Agency that Syrians who arrived by boat on Monday said hundreds more were waiting to board boats bound for the island.
Nicosia and Beirut have an agreement to exchange information on irregular migrants, and Cyprus has also signed a send-back agreement with Lebanon.
“Following information from arriving migrants that approximately 500 people were in a specific area of Lebanon waiting to board boats destined for Cyprus, the Interior Minister contacted his Lebanese counterpart and received assurances the issue would be addressed,” said Hadjivasiliou.
He said on Monday, two boats were spotted off the island’s southeast coast at Cape Greco, and a rescue operation was required as the vessels were overcrowded.
“Ultimately, those on board, 95 individuals from Syria, mostly men, were safely transferred to the temporary reception centre,” said Hadjivasiliou.
When questioned, he said the migrants mentioned “they were the first group to arrive in Cyprus”,…and around 500 others were waiting to board boats.
The official said Nicosia was satisfied that Lebanon was trying to limit the flow of migrants to Cyprus, but the country has two million Syrian refugees and “it is not easy for its authorities to prevent boat departures”.
He said Lebanon had an “informal agreement” to intercept boat departures before they reached Cyprus.
“We believe that it is much easier for Lebanon itself to intercept boat departures than to subsequently handle the process of returns,” said Hadjivasiliou
He said processing time for asylum applications, which was 9-21 months, has been reduced to “1-3 months maximum, which significantly contributes to the voluntary return and deportation of these individuals.”
Cyprus has seen a surge of mainly Syrians arriving by boat from Syria and some from Lebanon.
The government says it has reduced arrivals of irregular migrants by 50%, thanks to external factors and specific measures taken.
According to Interior Ministry data, asylum applications between March and August 2022 reached 11,961, while applications from March to August 2023 dropped to 5,866.
European Union member Cyprus argues it is a ‘frontline country’ on the Mediterranean migrant route, with asylum-seekers comprising an EU high of 6% of the island’s 915,000 population in the Republic – a record figure across the bloc.
Although asylum applications are down, there has been a rise in migrants arriving by boat, with a 60% increase recorded in the first seven months of the year.