Cypriot Interior Minister Konstantinos Ioannou has urged European countries to engage in a “collective debate” to evaluate the security situation in Syria and identify areas deemed “safe” for the repatriation of refugees.
Reports from Cyprus on Tuesday indicated that the government has formally requested the European Union to reevaluate the Syrian situation, particularly in light of a significant surge in asylum seekers from Syria heading towards Europe.
Ioannou emphasized the severity of Cyprus’ migration challenge, citing that 5.5 percent of its population, four times the EU average, comprises new asylum seekers or individuals with international protection. He highlighted the geographical proximity of Cyprus to Syria, making it susceptible to a disproportionately high influx of illegal immigrants from the region, thereby straining the country’s reception system.
Ioannou informed the EU Commissioner for Home Affairs about the government’s proposition to designate Syria, or specific parts thereof, as safe zones, facilitating the return of Syrian citizens to their home country.
The remarks from the Cypriot interior minister coincided with a visit by EU Home Affairs Commissioner Elva Johansson to Cyprus on Tuesday.
As reported by the Cyprus Mail, Ioannou brought up the proposal of designating Syria or specific parts of it as “safe” during his meeting with Johansson. However, Johansson acknowledged the complexity of adjusting Syria’s security status to curb immigration, stating, “So we have already discussed this issue and will continue to discuss it.”
She emphasized the importance of managing the migration challenge through organized efforts and joint cooperation among EU member states. Johansson suggested that the most effective approach to handling the migration issue is through collaborative strategies within the European Union.
Cyprus has implemented a comprehensive four-pillar migration management policy, focusing on infrastructure modernization, expedited application processes, increased returns, and the promotion of voluntary return programs with financial incentives.
According to the Cypriot Interior Minister, these measures have shown positive outcomes, with a 50% reduction in the total number of arrivals and applications in 2023 compared to 2022. Additionally, there has been a 60% decrease in the number of migrants arriving from African countries through the Green Line.
Cyprus has previously urged the EU to establish “safe zones” in Syria to facilitate the return of Syrian refugees in Europe and to address the continuous influx of refugees.
Interior Minister Ioannou emphasized the significance of initiating discussions to reassess the situation in Syria, stating, “Starting to discuss the reassessment of the situation in Syria is very important for us.”
The Cypriot interior minister highlighted that his country bears a disproportionately higher refugee burden, with five times more refugees than any other frontline country, primarily Syrians.
This article was translated and edited by The Syrian Observer. The Syrian Observer has not verified the content of this story. Responsibility for the information and views set out in this article lies entirely with the author.