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12° Nicosia,
25 June, 2024
 
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Cyprus President returns from Lebanon with promises fulfilled

Government's secret strategy to stemming migration waves

Apostolis Tomaras

Apostolis Tomaras

President Nikos Christodoulides' whirlwind journey to Beirut has drawn to a close, yet the true test of its impact lies on the horizon, amidst the waves.

While Cyprus navigates through the tumult of escalating migration flows, which have placed a pressing humanitarian burden on Nicosia, Interior Minister Constantinos Ioannou candidly confessed to The Guardian about the island nation's crisis, teetering on the edge of its capacity.

Ioannou, the mastermind behind an informal agreement with Lebanon, hinted at a diplomatic breakthrough that has somewhat stemmed the tide of illegal arrivals from the neighboring shores.

Despite the cloak of secrecy shrouding the specifics of the negotiations with the Lebanese authorities, Nicosia's strategic silence underscores a calculated move to alleviate political pressure on Beirut's beleaguered government. However, behind the scenes, Cyprus continues its diplomatic overtures through the EU, even as Brussels remains hesitant to fully meet Cyprus's demands.

Gains made

As detailed by "K", Cyprus, facing limited options to curb migration independently, has long set its sights on Lebanon, aiming to address the issue at its source. Reports indicate a tacit acknowledgment from the Lebanese side regarding the imperative for cooperation in cracking down on smugglers and deterring migrant departures from their shores en route to Cyprus. If the Lebanese Prime Minister's public assertions hold weight, then a resurgence of last summer's informal agreement between the two nations seems inevitable.

Cyprus's reluctance to divulge details of President Christodoulides' visit to Lebanon is perhaps a reflection of the volatile domestic landscape in the neighboring nation, which had undermined the previous informal accord. Even the scant returns of migrants recorded by the end of 2023 were met with unbearable political pressures on the Lebanese government, prompting authorities to bar Cypriot Coast Guard vessels from entering their territorial waters last February. Political analysts suggest Lebanon's commitment to address migration issues discreetly, away from the public eye.

Contributions offered

President Christodoulides assured his counterparts in Beirut of Cyprus's steadfast support for Lebanon, advocating for the EU to elevate the neighboring nation to the same standing as Turkey and Egypt in migration affairs, with increased European assistance. The President pledged that Cyprus, in collaboration with other frontline migrant reception countries, would ramp up efforts to position Lebanon as a key player in curbing migration, all without incurring costs. It's worth noting Lebanon's significant migrant population, numbering nearly 3 million, predominantly of Syrian origin.

The informal accord

The agreements forged between Cyprus and Lebanon last summer hinged on close and continuous cooperation between the two nations' authorities, resulting in a notable reduction in arrivals and the apprehension of migrant smuggling operatives. Thanks to this informal collaboration, Cypriot authorities conducted successive arrests of individuals, primarily of Arab descent, residing on the island in recent years.

The establishment of an information-sharing mechanism between Lebanon and Cyprus, initiated following Interior Minister Constantinos Ioannou's visits to Beirut, played a pivotal role in dismantling migrant smuggling networks. However, this collaborative effort subsequently waned. The effectiveness of the informal agreement, while in force, is underscored by official figures, with a reduction rate of up to 50% recorded both monthly and cumulatively. Notably, reductions were more pronounced in certain months, such as April, May, June, and July.

2022

Mar-22  Apr-22   May-22 Jun-22   Jul-22

1873      2025      2556      2401      1770

2023

Mar-23  Apr-23 May-23 Jun-23   Jul-23

1679      646        1000      735        918

[This article was translated from its Greek original]

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Cyprus  |  Lebanon

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