The Austrian government on Wednesday threw its weight behind Cyprus’ plan to declare parts of Syria safe to return migrants.

Speaking to the Cyprus Mail, a spokesperson for the Austrian interior ministry said Minister Gerhard Karner had told the European Union’s justice and affairs council that “deportations to safe areas in Syria should be possible again in the medium term.”

The spokesperson added that the matter “needs to be discussed and should be on the EU agenda.

“In this sense, we also support relevant initiatives and ideas,” they said.

Cypriot Interior Minister Constantinos Ioannou had implored his EU counterparts on Monday evening to re-evaluate the status of parts of Syria and consider some areas of the war-torn country as safe.

His ministry had announced on the day that his position had “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.”

However, a spokesperson for Sweden’s EU Affairs minister denied the claim to the Cyprus Mail on Tuesday, describing it as a “misunderstanding”.

“We have heard similar proposals raised but it is not something that Sweden has taken a position on,” the spokesperson added.

The Cyprus Mail also made repeated attempts to contact the Greek migration ministry but received no response.

The Cypriot government’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, 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”.