Middle East crisis may spark migrant surge from Lebanon

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Cyprus is bracing for an influx of irregular Syrian migrants from Lebanon as the Israel-Hamas conflict threatens to spread into the neighbouring country, officials said Tuesday.

The Cypriot Interior Minister said there is information about “hundreds of Syrian refugees” on the shores of Lebanon preparing to make the journey by boat to Cyprus.

Over the weekend, Cyprus received 264 Syrian migrants who arrived on three boats from Lebanon, a relatively short journey across the Mediterranean Sea.

Interior Minister Constantinos Ioannou said Cyprus’ capabilities to handle such large numbers were limited and called on Brussels to financially and infrastructurally support Cypriot authorities.

“There are new facts due to developments in Israel and Gaza, especially concerning Lebanon,” Ioannou told reporters Tuesday.

He said the possible involvement of Lebanon and the generally worsening war situation weakened the efforts of Beirut to monitor its territorial waters and prevent the departure of vessels.

“We have information that there are hundreds, possibly, of Syrian refugees on the shores of Lebanon.

“We have conveyed this information to the (Lebanese) authorities, and we are on standby,” Ioannou said.

“When there are large flows, we expect support from the EU, both financially and with facilities.

“We are ready as a state to help, as it is our duty, but our capabilities are limited,” he added.

Nicosia and Beirut have an agreement to exchange information on irregular migrants, and Cyprus has also signed a send-back agreement with Lebanon.

In recent months, Cyprus has seen a surge of mainly Syrians arriving by boat from Syria and Lebanon.

The government says it has reduced arrivals of irregular migrants by 50%, thanks to 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.

According to the United Nations Refugee Agency, there are 26,995 asylum-seekers whose applications are pending.

Some 18,103 are registered as refugees and subsidiary protection beneficiaries in Cyprus.