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27 May, 2024
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Cyprus tackles mounting challenges in Syrian migrant crisis

Nicosia faces diplomatic dilemma over Assad's refugee offer and Lebanon's migration pressures


As Syrian President Bashar al-Assad signals openness to the return of Syrian refugees, Nicosia remains cautious in its approach, refraining from engagement with the Damascus regime. According to a report by Pavlos Xanthoulis in today's Kathimerini printed edition, despite Assad's willingness, EU sanctions against Syria and concerns over human rights violations pose significant obstacles for Cyprus in pursuing any agreements.

Three key questions loom large in this debate:

1. Legitimacy of Return: Given the dire human rights situation in Syria, the legitimacy of returning refugees remains in question. Most EU states and humanitarian organizations deem Syria unsafe for repatriation.

2. Safe Zones Consideration: Can specific areas of Syria be deemed safe for returns? EU member states, including Germany, argue against such fragmented approaches, dismissing Cyprus' attempts to designate certain Syrian regions as safe.

3. EU Political Consensus: Does the EU's unified stance on Syria allow for bilateral agreements with the Assad regime? Political considerations, including ongoing EU sanctions and Assad's alliances with Russia and Iran, deter any direct engagement with Syria.

While Cyprus retains the prerogative to designate safe regions within Syria, unilateral action could isolate Nicosia further within the EU and beyond. The EU's new Pact on Migration, slated for implementation by 2026, aims to establish common criteria for safe country designations but does not address Cyprus' call for compulsory relocations.

Given the current impasse on Syrian refugee returns, Nicosia's focus shifts to curbing migration flows from Lebanon. President Christodoulides is expected to seek EU support for Lebanon's stability at the upcoming summit, advocating for financial assistance tied to refugee control measures.

However, challenges persist in bolstering Lebanon's capacity, including governance issues, Hezbollah's political influence, and risks of funds falling into the wrong hands. EU circles view Lebanon as a potential flashpoint, with any escalation in the Israeli-Hezbollah conflict exacerbating refugee flows toward Cyprus.

As regional tensions simmer, Cyprus navigates a delicate balancing act between humanitarian concerns, EU solidarity, and regional stability in managing the Syrian refugee crisis.

[Read the full article in Greek in this Sunday's Kathimerini printed edition]

Cyprus  |  EU  |  Syria  |  migration  |  asylum

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