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24 June, 2024
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European nations turn to Cyprus for safe passage amid Middle East crisis

From refuge to military preparedness

Apostolis Tomaras

Apostolis Tomaras

As the international community closely monitors developments in Israel and the Gaza Strip, Cyprus stands prepared to provide humanitarian assistance in this Middle East crisis. This relief effort draws from Cyprus's past experiences, notably during the Sudan crisis and the 2006 Lebanese crisis, which saw 2,611 people find safe refuge in Cyprus in the former case, and more than 60,000 Europeans and Lebanese in the latter.

In the coming days, Nicosia faces three interconnected challenges linked to the outcome of the Israeli crisis. Firstly, Cyprus anticipates a surge in humanitarian needs if hostilities escalate, especially if ground operations commence in Israel. Cyprus may become the initial destination for an unspecified number of people seeking safety.

Secondly, the Eastern Mediterranean witnesses a significant military buildup amid fears of the conflict expanding. This dynamic is of great concern.

Thirdly, there is heightened apprehension at the European level regarding potential reactions from Islamic elements to Israeli and American interests. Cypriot authorities are vigilantly monitoring this situation in close cooperation with neighboring and European countries.

According to reliable information, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs has been preparing since last Thursday to host a considerable number of people who may need to move en masse to the West via Cyprus. The Minister of Interior has also begun seeking temporary housing options for these individuals.

Initially, considerations were given to using campsites, unused sports facilities, or dormant camps. However, these options were discarded due to concerns about their suitability and current usage. Consequently, attention has shifted toward utilizing tourism infrastructure, such as hotels, which has been a successful approach in similar situations in the past.

Travel to Cyprus is on the rise, with 26 requests from various countries, including the US, Germany, Portugal, Denmark, and the UK, for facilities to accommodate their nationals. The situation has evolved rapidly, with 1,083 people arriving in Cyprus and 871 departing, and temporary housing provided for 182 individuals. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs anticipates these numbers will increase significantly, particularly given the substantial German population in Israel and the presence of German citizens among hostages held by Hamas.

The Cypriot government's primary concern is not orderly evacuations from war zones but rather the potential for a chaotic exodus if the crisis spreads to neighboring countries like Lebanon or Syria. In such a scenario, the humanitarian aspect could take on dimensions akin to the Syrian war, where 30 migrant boats departed from Lebanon to Cyprus in two months, according to UN data.

Regarding the National Guard, Defense Minister Michalis Giorgallas has indicated a more proactive stance, which may involve readiness to protect areas from potential air threats. The focus is primarily on regions around British bases, similar to the situation during Western coalition operations in 2014 when Cyprus activated the BUK anti-aircraft system.

The infrastructure in Cyprus may also be used by European powers, with Nicosia already agreeing to Berlin's request for the presence of a Special Forces team in readiness. This German team's primary mission is to evacuate German citizens and diplomatic staff in the event of an escalating crisis and the suspension of civilian flights. The United States has also utilized these facilities for evacuating civilians from the wider region.

[This article was translated from its Greek original]

Cyprus  |  MiddleEast  |  crisis  |  Israel

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