President Nikos Christodoulides, and the President of the European Parliament, Roberta Metsola, visit the Joint Rescue Coordination Centre (JRCC) in Larnaca. Photo: Andreas Loucaides/PIO

Cyprus ‘at its limit’ with migrant flows, discontent with Lebanon

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Cyprus is deeply concerned over the consistently increasing arrival of Syrian migrants in recent weeks, fuelling Nicosia’s discontent with Lebanese authorities, after five boats arrived with 400 on board in the last 24 hours.

In unusually direct remarks, President Nikos Christodoulides said after a meeting with European Parliament President Roberta Metsola on Tuesday, “I fully understand the challenges Lebanon is facing, but exporting migrants to Cyprus should not be the answer and cannot be accepted.

“The number of Syrian migrants coming from Lebanon has been consistently increasing in recent weeks, which is deeply concerning. Towards that end, the EU should also stand by Cyprus in tangible ways.”

Visiting the Joint Rescue Coordination Centre in Larnaca, from where Cyprus and EU officials monitor traffic in the eastern Mediterranean, including the maritime shipments of aid to Gaza, Metsola said that on migration, “we have a big unprecedented legislative package next week that will hopefully go through the European Parliament.

“With this legislative package, we will be able to answer both in the short and medium term, but also hopefully in the longer term, the individual national challenges that countries such as yours are facing in regard to migration,” she said.

Government spokesperson Konstantinos Letymbiotis said earlier on Tuesday that Cyprus is “at its limit” with the increasing arrival of migrants, following an emergency National Security Council meeting on Monday.

Chaired by Christodoulides, the high-level meeting was attended by key ministers including foreign affairs, interior, justice, and defense, as well as the deputy attorney general, police chief, commander of the national guard, director of the national security agency, and deputy ministers of social welfare and European affairs.

In comments after the meeting, Letymbiotis said that Cyprus has implemented measures evident in the number of departures and the arrest of smugglers.

However, he acknowledged the geographical challenge, being in close proximity to Lebanon, particularly noting increased migration following recent events there.

“After October 7 (when the latest conflict between Israel and Palestinians broke out) in particular, there has been a heightened flow of migrants, particularly from Lebanon,” said Letymbiotis

Avoiding to disclose details of the measures discussed at the NSC meeting, the government spokesperson said all ministers raised various concerns.

“Cyprus is the closest EU member state to Lebanon and in the last few days there have been increased migration flows of which we should tackle in coordination with the EU,” he stated.

Strain on resources

Asked about Cyprus’ capacity to handle the influx, Letymbiotis underscored the strain on resources, stating that the current pace is unsustainable for a country like Cyprus.

Regarding engagement with Lebanon or Syria, he referred to the established conditions for international protection of Syrian nationals. Cyprus is working on designating safe areas in Syria, although he cautioned against immediate resolution.

“We are already in contact with Lebanon, and there will be further communication with the authorities of the country to also interrupt these high migration flows observed in recent days,” the government spokesperson said.

The majority of migrants arriving on the island’s shores onboard boats leaving Lebanon, are from Syria.

Migrant flows are rising to record numbers, as indicated by data for the first three months of 2024, mirrored in a Philenews report.

From January to April 2, a total of 2,208 migrants arrived by boats in the area of Cape Greco, compared to just 78 individuals who arrived by sea during the same period last year. The number was even lower in 2022, when just 21 individuals arriving during the corresponding period.

What is concerning is that approximately half of the migrants arrived in the last 22 days, setting a record number.

The most massive simultaneous influx was recorded on March 11 when 458 individuals arrived on six boats.

In the early hours of Tuesday, another five boats carrying 137 and 68 individuals respectively had arrived, pushing the number of arrivals in just 24 hours, to 408.