Interior Minister Constantinos Ioannou said on Thursday that several EU countries had responded positively to his initiative aimed at designating parts of Syria as safe.

During a session at the House interior committee, he specified that he submitted his idea since the summer and “there was a positive reaction.”

However, he told MPs a decision had not yet been taken at EU-level and this was something that would happen after an evaluation of living conditions in Syria.

Interior ministry spokeswoman, Margarita Kyriacou told the Cyprus Mail countries that countries responding positively to Ioannou’s idea included Spain, Greece, “all Eastern Mediterranean countries”, and Sweden.

‘Dangerous and unrealistic’

Though reticent to disclose which parts of Syria it is that Cyprus wants to designate as safe, she said it would have to be an EU-wide discussion but perhaps Damascus and Tartus.

Human Rights Watch have described Ioannou’s initiative as “dangerous and unrealistic” and accused him of not painting the full picture when citing the European Union Asylum Agency’s (EUAA) assessment that Damascus and other parts of government-controlled Syria are no longer experiencing generalised violence.

He “omitted the agency’s observation that people being returned to Damascus could still be at risk of persecution and that the capital’s general situation is such that sending people there who were not at risk of persecution would only be reasonable ‘in exceptional cases’,” the NGO said.

Pressed to comment on the fact that Syria has been on the receiving end of Israeli strikes and whether this put into question the safety of the country, Kyriacou said: “Syria or Lebanon?”

She added this is something that the EU would evaluate and not something which would be adopted unilaterally.

“This would not be allowed anyway.”