EU member Cyprus wants Brussels to offer financial and technical aid to Lebanon to help it cope with an influx of Syrian refugees and keep them from reaching the island, its interior minister said on Wednesday.
Constantinos Ioannou also said Nicosia had offered to donate speedboats and conduct joint patrols with Lebanon after recent arrivals by sea suggested trafficker routes had shifted away from Turkey and towards the Lebanese coast.
“It is estimated that there are about 2.5 million Syrian refugees in Lebanon so you can imagine the scale of the problem Lebanon itself faces, with a population of 5-6 million and which isn’t even receiving technical or financial aid from the EU,” Ioannou told Cyprus state radio.
“That is something we are seeking,” he added.
The latest initiative is one of several undertaken by the east Mediterranean island in recent months to stem a surge in irregular migration which started around 2017.
Arrivals are down so far this year compared to 2022, but authorities say they expect new inflows based on interviews with Syrians who arrived recently from Lebanon.
Lebanese authorities have recently intercepted several ships with migrants heading from the Lebanese coast towards Europe. Such perilous journeys have been on the rise since Lebanon’s economy began to unravel four years ago.
Some 800,000 Syrians are registered with the UNHCR in Lebanon. Lebanese authorities say the real number of Syrian refugees in their country is 2 million.
Cyprus is offering six speedboats – two by the end of 2023 and another four next year – for joint patrols on the Lebanese coast and to train Lebanese service personnel engaged in preventing irregular migration, the Phileleftheros daily reported.
According to the UNHCR, the United Nations’ refugee agency, Cyprus received 6,481 new asylum applications in the seven months to July 2023, as opposed to 21,565 applications for the whole of 2022.
Part of the drop is because of a fall in the number of arrivals from sub-Saharan Africa via breakaway north Cyprus after Cypriot authorities tightened controls over a porous ceasefire line splitting the island in two.