The government made the right move in suspending the examination of asylum applications of Syrian migrants for 21 months. Since the beginning of April more than 1,000 Syrian migrants have arrived by boat from Lebanon, while another 2,000 had arrived in the first three months of this year.

President Nikos Christodoulides visited Beirut 10 days ago to seek assurances the Lebanese government would try to stop the migrant flow. Whether it would be able to do so is another matter, even though the president had indicated that the amount of EU aid to Lebanon would depend on it delivering. Arrivals since the visit would suggest the Lebanese government was capable of stopping the migrants.

Meanwhile, Interior Minister Constantinos Ioannou has for some time campaigned for the EU to declassify certain parts of Syria as war zones, visiting other member states to secure their support. If this happens, Cyprus would not be legally obliged to accept Syrians fleeing from areas no longer considered war zones. But this is not a short-term solution, as it could take months to materialise, if it ever does.

Akel, criticising the government decision, which it said was of questionable legality, claimed that it would not only cause overcrowding at reception centres, it would also create a backlog of pending applications and lead to recourses to the court of international protection. The only option, the party said, was to demand the EU distribute migrants/refugees among all member states, in accordance with the population of each. This is never going to happen, and Akel is disingenuous in suggesting it as an option.

Under the circumstances, the government’s only option was to impose disincentives for Syrian migrants. A migrant might think twice before paying to be brought to Cyprus if he knows he would be stuck in a reception centre for a minimum of 21 months with no prospect of work. There would be no state benefits for the new arrivals, the government saying they would only be offered food and shelter at the reception centres where they would have to live, until their application was eventually processed. It also said there would be a clampdown on illegal workers.

This may come across as a tough policy, but the government had to act. Making Cyprus a relatively unattractive destination for migrants is the only thing it can do, as it cannot rely on any practical support from its EU partners, nor depend on the Lebanese government to stop the flow. Prospective migrants will hear of the difficulties being faced in Cyprus and could be put off paying to come here.

There are currently 10,000 pending asylum applications for Syrians and the flow has been increasing. The government had an obligation to take measures to reduce this flow before the situation veered completely out of control.