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Cyprus has called on the European Union to help it curb the tide of people traveling by boat, mainly Syrian migrants, arriving on its shores from Lebanon. The country insists that any European aid to Lebanon should be contingent upon stopping this influx. Cypriot Interior Minister Constantinos Evano declared that “the situation is worsening” and that “in recent days, we have seen a surge in refugees risking their lives on makeshift boats.”

As reported by Reuters, over 600 migrants have reached Cyprus within the last few days. The stable weather conditions are encouraging refugees to undertake this approximately 10-hour sea journey from Lebanon or Syria to Cyprus.

Cypriot President Nikos Christodoulides raised the issue with the President of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, stressing that Lebanon should not be allowed to export the problematic of migrants.

Some 2,004 migrants arrived in Cyprus by sea in the first three months of 2024, compared to a mere 78 during the same period last year, according to official Cypriot data.

Lebanese official sources have refuted Cypriot claims alleging that Lebanese authorities facilitate the illegal migration of Syrians. They revealed that Lebanese security forces have recently foiled attempts by dozens of Syrians to set sail for Cyprus aboard five boats. One of these boats was intercepted by the Lebanese navy a few meters from its departing point near a beach close to the northern city of Tripoli.

The sources stressed that Lebanese authorities are exerting all possible efforts, using whatever resources available, to curb illegal migration. However, the Lebanese navy refrains from intercepting migrant boats deep at sea, fearing accidents that may result in the tragic loss of lives of men, women and children. Dozens of people perished in a sinking incident in August 2022 when the navy tried to intercept them.

Official sources argue that favorable weather conditions have contributed to an increase in illegal migration by sea, a matter that is likely to escalate. They stress that the problem is not with Lebanon but rather with the European Union, which prohibits Cyprus from repatriating illegal migrants to Syria, citing unsafe conditions and potential risks to their lives. Meanwhile, Lebanon refuses to take back illegal migrants who depart from its shores.

The migrant issue has further strained Lebanese-Cypriot relations which have soured because of Lebanon’s procrastination in finalizing the demarcation of its maritime borders with Cyprus while concluding a maritime delineation agreement with Israel on October 31, 2022.

During a visit to Lebanon, a Cypriot delegation received guarantees from Lebanese officials that the demarcation process would be completed within days after the Israeli agreement, but the Lebanese promises have yet to materialize.