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18 July, 2024
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EU court may block Cyprus' plan for Syrian refugees

Germany and EU commission back court opinion against Syrian safe zones


The Chief Prosecutor of the Court of Justice of the European Union has proposed a legal interpretation that could block Nicosia's efforts to designate certain areas of Syria as "safe" for the return of refugees. In a related case involving Moldova, Nikos Emiliou clarified that a state cannot be considered a "safe country" in some areas while others remain unsafe.

Sources indicate that the Advocate General of the Court of Justice of the EU highlighted in his proposals that Directive 2013/32 allows for the designation of a country as safe only if it applies to the entirety of its territory. This poses significant challenges for Nicosia, which has been striving to persuade its EU partners to designate specific areas of Syria as safe to facilitate the return of Syrian refugees.

The Advocate General's proposals have received backing from Germany and the European Commission, both of which participated in the hearing and submitted written endorsements. The opinion, typically influential and often followed by the Court with few exceptions, was given in response to a preliminary ruling request by a Czech court. This ruling came after Prague declared Moldova a safe country but excluded Transnistria, a region that is legally part of Moldova but self-declared as independent and controlled by militias backed by Moscow.

In his analysis, the Advocate General stated that an examination of Directive 2013/32 reveals that the directive allows the designation of a country of origin as safe only on an entire territorial basis. Although the opinion directly concerns Moldova and Transnistria, it could set a significant precedent if adopted by the Court, affecting other cases, including Syria. This would permanently obstruct Nicosia's efforts to designate certain areas of Syria as safe for refugee returns.

The Advocate General's opinion further clarified that it is not legally feasible to divide a country into safe and unsafe zones, as such an approach contradicts Directive 2013/32. Advocate General Nikos Emiliou argued that the concept of a safe country refers to a state where, generally and continuously, none of the risks identified in the concept exist. He stressed that this condition must be fulfilled throughout the entire country.

These points raised by the Advocate General suggest that Nicosia's attempt to designate parts of Syria as safe is highly unlikely to succeed and will probably face the same outcome as the Czech Republic's attempt with Moldova, assuming the court adopts the Advocate General's proposals.

During the proceedings at the Court of Justice of the EU, the Netherlands supported the Czech position, while Germany and the Commission endorsed the Advocate General's proposals. The Commission noted that the essential conditions for national designation as a safe country of origin must be met across the entire territory of a country. The Commission argued that exceptions could only apply in areas where a state does not exercise effective control, which could be classified as unsafe. However, the Advocate General disagreed, maintaining that the designation must apply to the whole territory without exceptions.

In recent months, Nicosia and the Minister of the Interior, Konstantinos Ioannou, have been trying to convince their EU partners to consent to designating some areas of Syria as safe to facilitate the return of Syrian refugees, given the overwhelming numbers of refugees and migrants in Cyprus. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs has visited Denmark and the Czech Republic, and a ministerial meeting of several Member States was recently held in Nicosia.

A foreign diplomatic source stated, "The Cypriot government attempted to secure the consent of partners in the EU to create a platform of pressure and pave the way for designating some areas of Syria as safe." However, the source indicated that this effort faces significant obstacles, including the opinion of the Advocate General of the Court of the EU, the Commission, and Germany, all of which oppose partial designations of safety. Humanitarian organisations and relevant UN bodies also consider Nicosia's position unrealistic and dangerous.

These factors, the source explained, act as deterrents to Nicosia's aspirations, at least for the time being.

[Summary of Pavlos Xanthoulis' original story in Greek published in Kathimerini's Cyprus edition]

Cyprus  |  refugees  |  migration

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