Cyprus will on Friday host an international meeting of interior ministers to discuss the matter of migration, with a particular emphasis on Cyprus’ plan to declare parts of Syria safe to return migrants.

The Cypriot interior ministry said on Thursday the meeting would be attended by interior ministers and officials from Greece, the Czech Republic, Austria, Poland, Denmark, Italy, and Malta.

They added that attendees will “examine ways to promote realistic measures to address the serious challenges of immigration.”

In addition, they said, the summit will “deal with the provision of technical and financial support to neighbouring third countries, recognising their important role and their contribution to stopping the flow of migrants into the European Union.”

They added that Cypriot Interior Minister Constantinos Ioannou will “raise the need for the EU to proceed with the further provision of substantial aid to Lebanon, along the lines of the agreements with Egypt and Tunisia.”

This, they said, should be done, “taking into account that Lebanon is called upon to manage serious social, economic, and political problems due to the large number of Syrian nationals who are in their territory.”

In this regard, Ioannou is set to make reference to the joint visit made by President Nikos Christodoulides and European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen to Lebanon earlier this month, during which a €1 billion financial support package was agreed.

This money, the ministry said, is “aimed at strengthening the Lebanese security authorities so as to combat migrant smuggling networks”.

On the matter of Syria, they added, Friday’s attendees are set to “exchange views on the Cypriot initiative to re-evaluate the status of areas of the country and the designation of certain areas of the country as safe.”

“Although stability in the country has not been achieved to the most absolute extent, the situation has clearly changed, and therefore, the existing realities on the ground should be examined,” they added.

They also made clear that any eventual initiative to return Syrian nationals to their country will be done “in collaboration with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees [Filippo Grandi]” and “under strict security conditions, with respect to European and international law”.

The Cypriot government has active and persistent on the issue of declaring parts of Syria safe to return migrants safe so far this year, with its position relying on assessments made by the European Union Agency for Asylum (EUAA).

The EUAA has downgraded its assessments of the provinces of Damascus and Tartus, though the practicalities of returning migrants to Syria have still yet to be ironed out.

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, as recently as April, Damascus was the target of Israeli bombing, which was aimed at the Iranian embassy compound in the city.

Despite the potential practical drawbacks, the Cypriot government’s initiative has won support in Europe, with Constantinos Ioannou having embarked on a tour of Europe last month to discuss the matter with his counterparts from three other EU member states, all of which will send representatives to Friday’s meeting.

Ioannou first travelled to Copenhagen, where he met his Danish counterpart Kaare Dybvad Bek. Bek said “the time has come to examine the real facts in Syria to allow states to carry out returns under specific and strict conditions.”

He added that he recognises the “enormous pressure on Cyprus due to the massive flows of migrants of Syrian origin.”

The following day, Ioannou met with Czech Interior Minister Vit Rakusan, where an agreement was reached to launch a joint factfinding mission operated by Cyprus and the Czech Republic to Syria, with the aim of designating parts of the country as safe.

He then travelled to Athens to meet Greek Migration Minister Dimitris Kairidis, and said he “welcomed” Greece into the group of EU member states focusing on the matter of declaring Syria safe.

Cyprus can also rely on the support of Austria in its endeavour, with the Austrian government having told the Cyprus Mail of its support for the plan in March.

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.”

However, support across the bloc is not unanimous. A spokesperson for Sweden’s EU Affairs minister denied the claim that they had also supported Cyprus’ plan to declare parts of Syria safe to the Cyprus Mail, 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.

Despite the knockback and the potential hurdles as regards practicality, President Nikos Christodoulides has hardened his rhetoric on the matter.

In an interview with the Editor Network Germany (RND) last month, he said “we are not in a position to take any more Syrian refugees. We are at our limit and can no longer cope with this flow of refugees.”

With this in mind, he made it clear that what was once a suggestion regarding Syria’s status is now a point of principle for the government, saying “we expressly demand that certain areas in Syria be classified as safe regions.”