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President asks EU to intervene, island faces migration crisis (Update 3)

migrants, larnaca, larnaca port, irregular migrants
Migrants at Larnaca port (Photo: Tom Cleaver)

Two more boats carrying 263 irregular migrants were spotted on Tuesday night by authorities who proceeded with a rescue operation bringing the passengers to the safety of the Larnaca port.

Another boat carrying 22 was spotted off Cape Greco on Wednesday. Their arrival on the island will mean that a total of 761 irregular migrants will have arrived in Cyprus since Sunday, aboard 14 different boats.

The incidents sparked a furthering of the “crisis” mode over migration, with President Nikos Christodoulides requesting the personal intervention of the EU commission head.

The onslaught of boats setting of from Lebanon transporting mainly male Syrian asylum seekers, marks an immigration crisis for Cyprus, Interior Minister Constantinos Ioannou told state broadcaster CyBC on Wednesday, echoing statements made by Christodoulides earlier.

The minister reiterated that the state was moving, with other allies, on two fronts for coping with the situation: one is to push for a re-designation of parts of Syria as safe and the other to insist EU funds provided to Lebanon be tied to that state improving the policing of its waters and coasts.

Meanwhile, on Tuesday night Christodoulides revealed he had held a phone conversation with President of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen over the latter, in which he had requested her personal intervention.

“As you know, the EU provides significant financial assistance to Lebanon both for the country itself and for hosting Syrian migrants, and I have asked the president […] herself to contact the Lebanese authorities. [The funding] help cannot be given [and yet] we have such phenomena,” Christodoulides said.

“At the same time, there is [willingness] on part of the EU to support Lebanon even more financially. In order for this to be possible, Lebanon should not allow migrants to leave [its shores] and come to Cyprus,” the president noted.

“We have done everything we can domestically [i.e. addressing irregular migration from Africa], the problem, is external,” the president said.

He continued to note that the island was “in a state of crisis”, and adding that “some transitional decisions may need to be taken domestically, which will not be pleasant, but will be beneficial in the long run.”

Pressed to clarify this statement the president deferred, saying only that Cyprus needed to take a proative stance and that he hoped events would not force the situation.

Later on Wednesday, another boat with 22 people on board was spotted off Cape Greco. Of these 14 were men, three were women, and five were children.

So far, ten people have been arrested on suspicion of having driven the boats to Cyprus.

Παράτυποι μεταναστες έφτασαν δια θαλασσής στην Κύπρο από τον Λίβανο

Elsewhere on CyBC, Ioannou said with regards to the re-designation of Syrian regions as safe, that Cyprus “had documented everything fully,” noting that Australia and the Czech Republic were in alignment with the Republic over this issue.

On Tuesday, following an emergency National Council meeting on migration, Government Spokesman Letymbiotis said the conditions of international protection for Syrian nationals “are well known” while Ioannou noted that members of the community residing in Cyprus routinely travel to safe parts of Syria.

“Under current protocol any Syrian arriving in Cyprus must be automatically granted refugee status,”  Ioannou recalled.

“We are a small island and despite our best intentions to assist we have limited human resources,” the minister said, adding that more funding from the EU would not solve Cyprus’ migration problem.

“We don’t want more money,” he said, noting the matter hinges on the requirement to hire and train staff in unrealistic timeframes and numbers with overwhelming numbers of migrant arrivals.

“Take for example the fact that there needs to be a properly trained guardian for X numbers of children or minors–when they arrive 70 at a time this is simply unfeasible,” he said.

Three members of the coast guard and a police helicopter were deployed to the area where the latest boat was spotted.

The first boat was transporting 27 people, 16 men, five women and six minors, one of whom was unaccompanied. Their details were recorded and then they were transferred to the Pournara reception centre in Kokkinotrimithia. Their boat had been spotted 12 nautical miles east of Cape Greco. Police proceeded to arrest a minor alleged to be the navigator of the boat.

The second boat, carrying 236 people and spotted 35 nautical miles east of Cape Greco, has yet to be brought to port. According to the Cyprus News Agency, it appears to be transporting only men.

Later during the day, police arrested the boat’s alleged navigator, a 23-year-old man, who is expected to appear in front of the Larnaca district court in for his remand.

The minor arrested earlier was remanded for eight days.

A third boat also showed up on police radars which was eventually established not to be carrying migrants.

In the first three months of 2024, 2,448 irregular migrants arrived in Cyprus by sea.

 

 

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