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27 May, 2024
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Government halts Syrian asylum reviews amid tensions

Coalition support for Cyprus president's asylum policy draws criticism

Marina Economides

Marina Economides

As tensions escalated in Lebanon and refugee boats continued to arrive in Cyprus, the President of the Republic made a significant announcement via his personal account on "X": the suspension of asylum application reviews for Syrian nationals. Despite his recent crisis management visit to Lebanon, questions lingered about whom his actions truly affected. Did they threaten Lebanon, with its 2 million internally displaced refugees, or did they signal concerns within the European Union?

The decision to suspend garnered initial praise from ELAM, with a far-right party member highlighting the alignment of the president's actions with ELAM's positions, deeming them realistic and feasible. This endorsement was echoed by coalition parties, despite earlier warnings that supporting ELAM could be synonymous with endorsing xenophobia, racism, and fascism. Critics accused certain figures of veering into populist simplifications and racist rhetoric. Nevertheless, the General Secretary of DIKO swiftly hailed the decision as "perhaps the most serious and decisive on immigration in years," emphasizing Cyprus's commitment to protecting asylum seekers while avoiding becoming a pawn or a vulnerable target.

While the suspension was hailed as a significant move, questions arose about its practical implications and its potential to deter future arrivals. Could the suspension via "X" effectively prevent new arrivals or deter boats? If the pre-election promise was to expedite application processing, did the suspension nullify those commitments? Ultimately, would this decision lead to an increase in refugee numbers? However, beyond the practical considerations, the ethical dimension remained paramount. No state should discriminate against asylum seekers based on their origin, as enshrined in international conventions and ethical codes.

Recent events tested these ethical principles, not only through the suspension of application assessments but also amid rumors of Cyprus implementing pushback policies. Interior Minister Konstantinos Ioannou sought to distance himself from his predecessor, acknowledging the political risks associated with certain measures. While Ioannou is typically vocal about his political decisions, choosing to hold numerous press conferences, he remained silent amid growing speculation about pushback operations. Today, he refuses to comment on the veracity of these rumors.

Addressing immigration challenges requires more than slogans or emotional appeals—it demands a thoughtful approach at the negotiation table. Achieving a fair distribution of refugee flows among member states, while considering new realities and geopolitical dynamics, is essential.

In times of crisis, no one emerges as a long-term victor, despite temporary gains at the ballot box. As centrist candidates readily declare support for pushback policies, engaging in rhetoric similar to ELAM, it becomes imperative for them to articulate their positions and distinguish themselves from such ideologies. In the coming days, clarity on their stance and their differences from ELAM will be crucial in navigating the complex landscape of immigration policy.

[This article was translated from its Greek original]

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