Interior Minister Constantinos Ioannou on Monday implored his European Union counterparts to re-evaluate the status of parts of Syria and consider parts of the war-torn country as “safe”.

Speaking at the EU’s justice and internal affairs council, he stressed “the need to re-evaluate the existing status of Syria and to consider the possibility, even on a pilot basis, of designating certain areas of Syria as safe areas.”

“After such a long time, the EU should examine its decisions on the matter, based on the realities which exist today and on the basis of the negative consequences created by the perpetuation of the existing policy,” he said.

The interior ministry said Ioannou’s position “received significant support” among his EU counterparts, with “member states such as Greece, Austria, and Sweden in their own interventions agreeing on the need to adopt a new political stance on the issue.”

The Cyprus Mail contacted the interior ministries of all three countries to attempt to verify these claims but did not receive an answer.

Ioannou had gone on to say, “the continuous flow [of migrants] by sea impacts the effectiveness of measures taken at a national level as well as the significant benefits of the implementation of the EU’s action plan for the Eastern Mediterranean.”

He spoke more positively of the EU’s intervention on other matters, however, pointing out that the flow of irregular migrants across the Green Line into the Republic of Cyprus had significantly reduced.

He expressed his hope that numbers will continue to fall, and said he expects Turkey to “act in good faith to prevent irregular migration flows”.

Ioannou’s claim that parts of Syria are safe is based on indications made regarding the provinces of Damascus and Tartus by the European Union Agency for Asylum (EUAA).

Tartus is a port city located around 160 kilometres east of Cape Greco. 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.

On Damascus, Syria’s capital, 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.”

However, while Tartus as a port city is 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.

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

Despite the government’s assertions regarding Damascus, too, missile strikes on the city have been reported in recent weeks.

Syrian state media reported on February 21 that “several Israeli missiles” hit a residential building in Damascus, with witnesses reportedly hearing “several back-to back explosions”.