Cyprus will remain a safe haven for those in need, especially for the refugees who are forced to abandon their homes and families, Defence Minister Savvas Angelides said on Wednesday at the start of the international maritime search and rescue exercise Argonaftis 2018.
Over 40 countries are taking part in, or are observing, the exercise – which ends on Friday – from the ‘Zenon’ joint search and rescue coordinating centre in Larnaca.
Angelides said Argonaftis was the biggest such exercise in the Mediterranean every year with 250 people participating from countries including Greece, France, Italy, the United Kingdom and the United States.
The scenario this year simulates a non-combatant evacuation from the Levant into Cyprus. It encompasses land, sea and air activities in and around Larnaca and Limassol, the Nicosia Flight Information Region and Cyprus’ exclusive economic zone.
The minister said the extremely sensitive status of the Middle East increases the possibility of such a scenario as a result of a conflict or crisis.
He said that in 2006 more than 70,000 evacuees arrived in Cyprus from Lebanon, and that Cypriot authorities had demonstrated “unparalleled dedication” in addressing the situation at the time.
“Cyprus will remain a safe haven for those in need, especially for the refugees that are forced to abandon their homes and families to save their lives” he said.
The exercise will include a search and rescue phase at the end of the week and a live exercise at Larnaca port simulating the arrival of large numbers of evacuees into Cyprus, with local authorities working alongside other nations to manage the situation.