People smugglers “are advertising voyages to Cyprus on social media”, Interior Minister Constantinos Ioannou said on Saturday.

Speaking to mukhtars, he said the phenomenon of smugglers setting sail from Lebanon is “now becoming so commonplace that we must also look at ways in which Lebanon can intensify its efforts to arrest the smugglers who operate in Lebanon itself.”

He said promoting the arrest of smugglers operating in Lebanon is “very important for us”.

“It is now a business, unfortunately, with many millions worth of income for them. Cyprus, due to its proximity, is the easiest destination,” he said.

To combat this, he said, “our aim is, in cooperation with the Lebanese authorities, to see if ways can be found to increase Lebanon’s ability to police its coasts.”

Asked whether it is possible to prevent the boats from entering Cypriot waters, he said “the Republic of Cyprus faithfully observes its international agreements for the management of vessels approaching its territorial waters.”

He pointed out that there have been occasions on which the occupants of approaching migrant boats have elected to sink their boats “so it automatically becomes a search and rescue operation.”

In addition, he said “there is no way for us to practically prevent people from entering our territorial waters. The sea is not a border or a fence and nothing can be put in place to prevent their passage.

“If there is an attempt to prevent it, they sink the boats or, as we have seen in the past, they throw children into the sea to force the coast guard to take them to land.”

He also spoke on the matter of migrants arriving from Lebanon not being returned there, in spite of an “informal agreement” paving the way for returns being signed last year.

“There have been major reactions to this in Lebanese society because a very large number of Syrians are hosted in the country,” he said, and therefore, “Lebanon is now refusing to accept boats back.”

He added, “returns without the consent of the destination country, in this case Lebanon, are not possible.”

On the matter of potentially relocating arriving migrants to other countries, he said “it has been a constant request on the part of Cyprus to carry out mandatory relocations of migrants to other member states, though this has not been adopted.”

However, “we do have cooperation with some states such as Germany and France for voluntary relocations.”

This cooperation, he said, allowed a total of 1,100 migrants to leave Cyprus for other European Union member states during the month of March.

Despite this, concern in government regarding the developing situation has not yet been alleviated, with Ioannou saying “we are just concerned about the trend currently being observed.

“If it continues with daily arrivals, we will have a problem in terms of our infrastructure, our human resources, and our ability to manage the situation.”