Cyprus Mail

Parts of Syria are safe, interior ministry insists

interior minister, constantinos ioannou, migrants, irregular migrations
Interior Minister Constantinos Ioannou

Interior Minister Constantinos Ioannou plans to “promote a discussion” on declaring parts of Syria as safe upon his visit to Brussels for an informal meeting of EU interior ministers on Thursday.

Speaking to the Cyprus Mail, ministry spokeswoman Margarita Kyriacou explained that such decisions can only be taken at a European level.

“The Republic of Cyprus cannot unilaterally declare Syria a safe country and just start sending Syrians there, nor is that our intention. Our plan at the moment is to promote this discussion at a European level, based on the current circumstances, to facilitate the return of Syrians to their home country,” she said.

She stressed that the government has no intention of declaring the entire country of Syria safe, but instead stressed that such indications had been made regarding two specific areas of the country by the European Union Agency for Asylum (EUAA).

One of those areas was the port city of Tartus, around 160 kilometres east of Cape Greco, about which the EUAA said “there is, in general, no risk” of “believing that the person would face a real risk of suffering serious harm” should they be returned there.

The other was the capital Damascus, about which the EUAA concluded that “in general there is no real risk” of harm, but “individual elements always need to be taken into account as they could put [someone] in risk-enhancing situations.”

With this in mind, Kyriacou said there will “always be criteria by which we will abide”, and that, once again, such actions would only be taken after agreement at the European level.

The Cyprus Mail asked Kyriacou about the practicalities of sending a Syrian national back to those areas, given that, while Tartus is a Mediterranean port city and accessible by sea, Damascus is landlocked and surrounded by places which are decidedly unsafe.

Land routes between the port of Tartus and Damascus all pass through Homs, where, according to the EUAA, “indiscriminate violence is taking place.” Routes into Damascus from Jordan in the south all pass through the Dar’a governorate, where, the EUAA says, individuals would “solely on account of their presence on its territory face a real risk” of violence.

Kyriacou said aerial routes could be considered, but this too could be unreliable, as the Syrian government has claimed on multiple occasions in recent months that Damascus airport has been bombed by Israel.

In addition, Damascus airport is located outside Damascus in the Rif Dimashq governorate, which the EUAA says is the scene of “indiscriminate violence”.

On the matter of identifying who would be eligible to be returned to Tartus or Damascus, Kyriacou said this would be a combination of voluntary returns and deportations.

Those wishing to return from Cyprus to Tartus or Damascus would be eligible to do so under the current existing voluntary returns mechanisms in Cyprus.

Potential deportees would be returned if either the Migration Department could determine that they originated from Tartus or Damascus, or if they themselves volunteered that information.

“If this cannot be determined, they would of course stay in Cyprus,” Kyriacou added.

Additionally, she emphasised, “all of this is theoretical at the moment. Our current goal is just to promote this discussion at the European level to attempt to alleviate the issue of Syrians travelling to Cyprus and onwards to Europe.”

Since the start of this year, 350 Syrians have arrived in Cyprus, and it’s still only January. We cannot kick them out,” she said.

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