Cyprus asks EU to help stem refugee crisis

refugee crisis

Cyprus is looking to the EU to help manage a surge in refugees reaching its shores from Lebanon ahead of the European elections. Like many EU member states, curtailing the ongoing refugee crisis has become a political priority as the country’s far-right grows in popularity.

Cypriot President Nikos Christodoulides asked for EU aid to help cope with his country’s refugee crises on April 3rd, according to AP.

Official Cypriot data counts over 2,000 people to have arrived on the island by sea in the first three months of 2024, from just 78 over the same period of 2023. Local authorities claim two vessels, carrying 263 migrants arrived the night of April 2nd, raising the number of new arrivals since March 31st to 761.

READ: Surge in Syrian migrants leaving Lebanon for Cyprus

“The EU provides significant financial assistance to Lebanon both for the country itself and for hosting Syrian migrants, and I have asked the [European Commission] president herself to contact the Lebanese authorities,” Christodoulides said, and that financial aid to Lebanon should be halted if the migrant flows continue.

Exchanges of fire across the Lebanon-Israel border, between Lebanon’s Iran-backed Hezbollah and Israel’s Defence Forces (IDF), have drawn Beirut’s focus away from stemming migration in recent months, according to Cyprus’ interior ministry.

READ: Lebanon: Israeli warplanes strike 10 Hezbollah targets

Cyprus is the closest EU member state to Lebanon, an approximately 10-hour sea crossing for mostly Syrian asylum seekers attempting to reach Europe via Lebanon. Migration is high on the political agenda on the island ahead of the European election, with polls showing Cyprus’ far-right ELAM party to have climbed to third place.

Cyprus, along with Austria and Denmark, is lobbying for the EU to designate areas of war-torn Syria as safe for migratory returns.

A February 27th European Union Agency for Asylum (EUAA) report claimed over 1.14 million people filed asylum applications in the bloc in 2023, an 18% increase from 2022. Syrian refuges comprise the majority of applicants, with Afghans the second-largest contingent, according to Al Jazeera.

The report also noted an increase in Palestinian requests, following the outbreak of the Israel-Gaza war on October 7th, 2023, and increased IDF and settler violence in the occupied West Bank.

Christodoulides will meet European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen in Athens on April 7th, coinciding Greece’s ruling New Democracy party’s conference.

AP / Al Jazeera

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