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Cyprus halts Syrian asylum applications

EU member Cyprus has suspended the processing of all asylum applications by Syrian nationals, citing the large numbers of Syrian refugees arriving from Lebanon as the main reason.

The Cypriot government said the move was also intended to pressure the EU to redesignate some parts of Syria as safe zones to make repatriations easier, but rights groups, as well as the UN’s refugee agency, say the country is still not safe for returnees.

Last week, the Cypriot president was in Lebanon, appealing to the local authorities to stop migrant departures from their shores. Cyprus interior ministry numbers show a 27-fold increase in migration to the Mediterranean island nation this year compared to last, with at least 2,140 migrant arrivals by boat by 4 April. The uptick comes against the backdrop of spiralling conflict in the Middle East, between Israel and Iran and at the Israel-Lebanon border.

Cyprus is accusing Lebanon of refusing to uphold its end of a bilateral deal that mandates Cypriot authorities to return migrants attempting to reach the island from Lebanon.

Migration-related tensions have been growing in Cyprus since 2020, when civil society groups started reporting xenophobia, hate speech, and misinformation amid concerns over the Cypriot government's failure to adopt a comprehensive national integration strategy.

The EU's failure to agree on a regularised system to share the burden of refugee-hosting has added to the migrant problems in Cyprus. An EU migration pact that will require EU member countries to share the responsibility of asylum seekers will be enforced in 2026, but it has been condemned by critics as doubling down on a deterrence strategy that drives migrants and asylum seekers to take more and more dangerous routes.

For more on how Lebanon-Cyprus migration first took off after the Beirut explosion compounded the economic desperation in the country, read our September 2020 news feature: Overlapping crises in Lebanon fuel a new migration to Cyprus.

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