By Stefanos Evripidou
GREECE IS ready to help Cyprus provide temporary shelter to foreign nationals fleeing from the neighbouring region in the event the Syrian crisis deteriorates, Communications Minister Tasos Mitsopoulos said Tuesday.
The minister met with high-ranking Greek officials to discuss Cyprus’ contingency plan, dubbed ‘Estia’, prepared in the event the situation on the ground in Syria and possibly Lebanon deteriorates.
Under the plan, Cyprus will utilise its experience from the Israel-Lebanon war in 2006 to transform large buildings into shelters for incoming foreign nationals from friendly countries to Cyprus.
According to Foreign Minister Ioannis Kasoulides, Cyprus can take in 10,000 foreign nationals a day so long as an equal number leave the island for another destination within 48 hours. The governments of the foreign nationals will be responsible for ensuring their prompt departure from Cyprus.
Mitsopoulos met the head of civil protection under the Greek Ministry of Public Order, Patroclos Georgiades and the general secretary for Population and Social Cohesion, under the Greek Interior Ministry, Angelos Syrigos.
Speaking after the meeting, the minister said he exchanged views with both officials on coordinating actions to address the humanitarian crisis in Syria.
The two Greek officials held a series of contacts in Nicosia yesterday, aiming “to better coordinate efforts by the two countries to deal with problems that may possibly arise from the deterioration of the crisis in Syria”, Mitsopoulos said.
The aim, he went on, is to manage an eventual mass evacuation of refugees, either from Syria or Lebanon.
“We are fully prepared to deal with every incident,” Mitsopoulos said, adding that Greece has also expressed readiness to aid the Cyprus Republic in evacuating foreign nationals en masse.
For his part, Georgiades said Greece has its own contingency plan in place, called ‘Ioni’, noting that the aim of the visit is for Athens and Nicosia to “coordinate efforts, in order to deal with refugee flows though common actions”, while activating in parallel European mechanisms for providing assistance.
“The problem will not solely concern Cyprus or Greece, but Europe and our partners as well,” said Georgiades.
Syrigos said Greece will assist Cyprus in accelerating the operation to shelter foreign nationals briefly in Cyprus and then transfer them on to other countries.
The Greek officials also met yesterday with Interior Minister Socrates Hasikos and attended a meeting at the Foreign Ministry’s Crisis Management Centre.
By Stefanos Evripidou