The interior ministries of eight European Union member states took a joint stance on migration and the state of Syria following a meeting in Nicosia on Friday.

The ministries of Austria, Cyprus, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Greece, Italy, Malta and Poland agreed on a seven-point statement on the matter.

They said the recent adoption of the EU migration pact “undoubtedly marks the beginning of an effort to achieve a common response to the challenges posed by migration and asylum.”

However, they said, “the effectiveness of our migration policies depends to a significant extent on the decisions taken in the context of the external dimension of migration”, meaning joint actions taken with neighbouring countries.

They said that for this reason, “the reform of the EU’s migration and asylum policy must therefore continue with a greater emphasis” on this side of the issue.

Adjacent to this point are the matters of human trafficking and what the eight ministries called the “weaponisation” of migration, including by governments of third countries.

They said, “we are entrusted with safeguarding and preserving the principles of our union, including the respect for the fundamental values of life, international law and international humanitarian law.

“Decisions about who has the right to cross a member state’s borders should be made by the government of the state itself, not by criminal networks involved in migrant smuggling and human trafficking.”

They added, “the tragic loss of life at sea must end and, at the same time, human trafficking networks must be dismantled and those responsible must be brought to justice.”

On the matter of third countries which are not hostile to the EU in relation to migration, they said “we recognise the burden shouldered by friendly third countries, which have received a large number of displaced persons due to their geographical location, as well as their important role as the last bastion before migrants arrive irregularly in the EU.”

They said recent developments in the Middle East “are an additional reason for finding constructive ways to address the challenges before us”, and that for this reason, support for countries on the peripheries of the EU is required.

We emphasise the need to provide support to them to strengthen their capabilities, including through equipment, training and other forms of cooperation, to strengthen their efforts to deal with irregular migration flows and provide protection,” they said.

With this in mind, they said, “we strongly believe that existing cooperation and capacity-building with Lebanon should continue, and EU support should be further extended to limit the risk of even greater flows from Lebanon to the EU.”

For this reason, they said they welcomed European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen’s visit to the country earlier this month.

Von der Leyen had made the visit with Cypriot President Nikos Christodoulides, with a €1 billion financial support package having been agreed for Lebanon to aid its efforts to bolster its border control and its efforts to combat human trafficking.

In addition, the eight ministries also tentatively touched on the issue of the designation of Syria as a safe country.

They said, “we fully accept the necessity to offer support to those in need” and that “it is indisputable that when the war broke out in 2011 and in the following years of harsh military actions, the fleeing Syrian population was rightfully granted international protection.”

However, they said, “since then, many circumstances have changed and, 13 years later, while it is recognised that full political stability has not been achieved, the situation in Syria has evolved significantly.”

They added that Friday’s meeting therefore “constitutes an important step forward in the ongoing assessment of the situation in Syria and may lead to a wider discussion on case-handling and decision-making practice regarding the provision of asylum to persons arriving from Syria.”

The joint statement, while still pushing the issue of Syria’s status, took a markedly less firm stance on the issue than Christodoulides had in recent weeks.

Christodoulides had told the Editor Network Germany (RND) last month that “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 his government, saying “we expressly demand that certain areas in Syria be classified as safe regions.”