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Cyprus seeks EU help to curb surge of Syrian refugees from Lebanon

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Cyprus appealed on Wednesday for vigorous action from the EU to stem a recent tide of mostly Syrian refugees arriving by sea via Lebanon, saying the island's reception capacity was at breaking point.

Constantinos Ioannou © X

Cyprus appealed on Wednesday for vigorous action from the EU to stem a recent tide of mostly Syrian refugees arriving by sea via Lebanon, saying the island's reception capacity was at breaking point.

"The situation is getting progressively worse, and in the past few days we have essentially been experiencing an onslaught of rotting boats and refugees putting their lives at risk," said Constantinos Ioannou, Cyprus's interior minister.

This week, more than 600 people arrived in Cyprus, spurred by milder weather. The sea journey from Lebanon or Syria to Cyprus takes about 10 hours.

"All indications are that it will continue," Ioannou told state radio about the increase in arrivals.

That's being further fuelled by the fact that Lebanese authorities' focus on stemming migration at its coastline has waned in recent months, Ioannou said, amid escalations on the Lebanese-Israeli border.

Cyprus has long appealed to its EU partners to declare parts of war-ravaged Syria safe, which could facilitate the return of its fleeing citizens. It also wants EU aid to Lebanon to be contingent upon stopping the migrant outflow, Ioannou said.

Lebanon hosts tens of thousands of Syrian refugees.

Some 2,004 people arrived in Cyprus by sea in the first three months of this year, compared to just 78 in the same period of 2023, according to official data.

Cypriot President Nikos Christodoulides, who in rare blunt remarks said Lebanon should not 'export' its migration problem, discussed the issue with European Commission President Ursula Von der Leyen on Tuesday.

"(Traffickers) just give them a compass set at 285 degrees, food and water for a day and they set off," said Ioannou.

Based on interviews with refugees, traffickers were charging $3,000 for a journey to Cyprus, compared with $7,000 for Italy.

Writing by Michele Kambas

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