Informal Home Affairs Council
Cyprus braces for 200,000 Syrian refugees
By Nathalie Vandystadt in Nicosia and Lénaïc Vaudin d’Imécourt | Monday 23 July 2012
As in July and August 2006, when the war between Israel and Lebanon was raging, the small Mediterranean island of Cyprus is at the ready again to serve as an evacuation ground for European citizens and Westerners (Americans, Canadians, etc) if it becomes necessary for them to leave Syria and Lebanon.
Cyprus, which currently holds the rotating six-month Presidency of the EU, is only 170 kilometres away from these countries and has already readied itself for the “worst case scenario”. It has established an emergency plan to receive, if need be, some 200,000 Westerners who are still in Syria and Lebanon, while the fights between the soldiers of the Syrian army and the rebels continue in Damascus and Aleppo. “There won’t be any problems [...]. We have experience from Lebanon,” Cypriot Minister of the Interior Eleni Mavrou told the press a day before the informal meeting with his EU counterparts, which was held on 23 July in Nicosia.
The minister recalled that in 2006, Cyprus had already received some 70,000 Westerners or holders of dual nationality while they were in transit. “With the EU’s help, we are prepared to play our part,” the Cypriot minister insisted, explaining that according to her country’s emergency plan, the evacuated persons would spend “48 hours” on the island. This timeframe was considered sufficient to proceed “satisfactorily” to the foreigners’ repatriation and each country would be responsible for the repatriation of its citizens, or would cooperate with other countries. Nicosia has already planned housing, food and medical assistance. As a matter of fact, the island had planned to organise an evacuation simulation in October.
If the EU itself decided to organise a coordinated action to evacuate its citizens, the European External Action Service (EAS) would be responsible.
The situation of Syrian refugees is another matter altogether. On this point, “the EU must understand that Cyprus is a tiny country to face the situation,” Mavrou warned. For the time being, most of the refugees are in Syria’s four neighbouring countries (Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan and Iraq). Nicosia does not feel pressured, but is expecting the EU’s home affairs ministers to pledge to show solidarity if the EU were to be faced with an influx of asylum seekers (see separate article).