A new migratory route to Cyprus has emerged this summer, with increased departures from Syria to Cyprus surpassing those from Lebanon, according to a report by Open Democracy. This shift is attributed to corruption and pushback, which have led refugees to change their departure point from Lebanon to Syria. This marks the first time such significant flows have been recorded in the Eastern Mediterranean. Previously, refugees arriving on the island typically departed from Lebanon or Turkey. However, the report indicates that Cyprus and Lebanon's deterrent migration measures, coupled with corrupt activities involving military personnel in Syria, have led to departures from the Syrian coast between Latakia and Tartous.
Taim, a 26-year-old Syrian from Aleppo, recounted his journey of traveling 100 kilometers from Syria to Cyprus in a fishing boat in June, along with 40 other Syrians. Speaking from the Nicosia migrant camp, Taim expressed his initial attempt to travel legally, but after facing visa rejections despite receiving an offer to study in France, he resorted to smugglers. He emphasized the dire conditions in Syria, where a future held forced labor in the army.
Abu Ali, a 38-year-old from Latakia, turned to smuggling due to a lack of alternative employment opportunities. He revealed that transits from Syria to Cyprus began in 2020, and he arranges about 20 boats annually, primarily in the spring and summer. Corruption played a significant role in his success as a smuggler, as he maintained close relations with high-ranking security officers. He acknowledged making deals with military security departments and naval officers to organize refugee boats to Cyprus. Corruption within Syrian army ranks has long been known, particularly in strategically controlled coastal regions, which makes irregular departures unlikely without the knowledge or cooperation of the military.
The coastal area in question is heavily patrolled by Russian security forces, as Russia maintains a significant air base in Khmeimim, between Latakia and Tartus, and controls naval activities in Tartus. Abu Ali admitted to paying Syrian officers to ensure the safe passage of his boats and sharing over half of his earnings with them. Despite high costs, demand remains strong, with many Syrians willing to pay substantial sums for passage due to the assurance provided by the security forces.
The emergence of this new migration route can be attributed to a combination of corruption, local demand, and potentially other factors. Human rights groups in Cyprus and Lebanon have raised concerns about "push-backs" of migrants, where individuals attempting to reach Europe are forced back at sea, often endangering their lives. These factors collectively contribute to the shift in migratory routes from Lebanon to Syria, creating a significant challenge for authorities in the region.