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21 June, 2024
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Migration issue returns to the spotlight

A ministerial conference is being held in Nicosia today with 7 EU member states – Concerns about Syria and Lebanon persist

Yiannis Ioannou

Yiannis Ioannou

Today, Friday, May 17, Nicosia will host a ministerial conference at the level of Foreign Affairs Ministers, with the participation of 7 EU member states (Ed. Note: Ministers and officials from Greece, the Czech Republic, Austria, Poland, Denmark, Italy, and Malta will participate). The focus of the conference will be on the external dimension of the refugee-migration issue, particularly concerning the management of irregular migrant flows—mostly of Syrian origin—that have increased in recent months, including through Cyprus.

Syrian Issue

The issue of reassessing security conditions on Syrian territory persists, albeit challenging, within the framework promoted by Nicosia to manage, as a first reception country, irregular migrant flows that occasionally enter via Lebanon. It is worth noting that Lebanon hosts 780,000 recognized Syrian refugees, totaling over 2.1 million Syrians, with the recent EU-Lebanon agreement—promoted in part by Nicosia through Ursula von der Leyen—eliciting a reaction from the leadership of the Hezbollah political-military organization. This organization, with significant influence in southern Lebanon, led by its leader, essentially pressures the European Union for financial aid, effectively calling on the Lebanese government to allow Syrians to reach Europe through Cyprus. This statement by Nasrallah was indeed condemned by Nicosia, with President Christodoulides himself characterizing it as "unacceptable."

Lebanon's Deportations

Three days ago, for the first time since 2022, Lebanon opened cross-border passages northeastward, with Syria near the towns of Arsal and the crossings of Kalamun (Ed. Note: Syria-Lebanon-Israel tri-border) to repatriate— with the consent of the Assad regime—300 Syrian refugees (Ed. Note: from the officially recognized). Tensions in Lebanon—between Hezbollah and Sunni factions—raise concerns regarding the Refugee Issue and Syrians, particularly in light of the €1 billion economic aid announced by the EU over three years. The prevailing trends include:

- Anti-migration rhetoric prevailing in the country for months, demanding the deportation-repatriation of 15,000 Syrians per month for relief purposes.
- Exploitation of refugees, with Hezbollah pressuring—confirmed in Nasrallah's statements—"in favor of refugees" for monetary exploitation from European aid. Given that the Shiite Hezbollah is a political and military ally of Assad, it is not concerned about the fate of people, and at times, trafficking people is a practice to secure resources for its military wing (Ed. Note: with involvement in the Syrian civil war and open conflict in southern Lebanon with Israel).

Nicosia's Position

As officially reported by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and relayed by CNA, today's session in Nicosia is expected to address the provision of technical and economic support to neighboring third countries, recognizing their significant role and contribution to curbing migration flows into the EU. In this context, considering that Lebanon is called upon to seriously address social, economic, and political problems due to the large number of Syrian citizens on its territory, Interior Minister Ioannou will raise the need for the European Union to further provide substantial assistance to Lebanon, similar to agreements with Egypt and Tunisia. "Regarding the Syrian issue, representatives of the eight member states will exchange views tonight on the Cypriot initiative to reassess the status of areas in the country and to determine certain areas as secure. Although stability in the country has not been achieved to an absolute degree, the situation is clearly differentiated, and therefore, existing realities on the ground need to be examined," the announcement concludes. "The goal is to accelerate the process underway in cooperation with the UN Refugee Agency, to allow the return of Syrian citizens under strict security conditions, with respect for European and International Law."

[This article was translated from its Greek original and edited for clarity]

Cyprus  |  migration  |  Lebanon  |  Syria

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