Cyprus faces influx of migrants from Lebanon amid Israel-Hamas war uncertainty

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Cyprus has received an influx of 458 Syrian migrants from Lebanon in one week and is bracing for more as the Israel-Hamas war threatens to spread, officials said on Sunday.

Authorities said 194 Syrians arrived late on Saturday aboard four boats from Lebanon and were taken to the Pournara reception center outside Nicosia.

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Interior minister Constantinos Ioannou warned that the east Mediterranean island’s ability to handle large numbers of migrants was limited.

He said the possible involvement of Lebanon in Israel’s war and the generally worsening situation had weakened Beirut’s efforts to monitor its territorial waters and prevent illegal departures.

The first boat that arrived on Saturday held 110 people, and the second a further 52. Both had been heading for the southeastern coastal resort of Ayia Napa.

Later, two more vessels were intercepted with a combined 32 people on board and taken to the southern port of Larnaca.

Interior ministry official Loizos Hadjivasiliou said the Pournara center was now full, and an emergency plan had been activated to handle an increase in migrant arrivals because of the Israel-Hamas war.

The European Union member has also asked Brussels for emergency assistance.

“Additional tents have been requested in case our capabilities are exceeded,” he told the semi-government Cyprus News Agency.

On Tuesday, officials said “hundreds of Syrian refugees” in Lebanon were preparing to make the sea journey to Cyprus.

A week ago, 264 Syrian migrants arrived on three boats from Lebanon, a relatively short journey across the Mediterranean.

Cyprus has seen a surge of mainly Syrians arriving by boat from both Syria and Lebanon, which are less than 170 kilometres (105 miles) from the island.

The government says it has reduced arrivals of irregular migrants by 50 percent since last year.

Interior ministry figures show 11,961 asylum applications between March and August 2022, and that the number dropped to 5,866 in the same period this year.

Cyprus argues that it is a “frontline country” on the Mediterranean migrant route, with asylum-seekers comprising an EU high of 6 percent of the 915,000 population in the republic -- a record figure across the bloc.

According to the United Nations refugee agency, there are 26,995 asylum seekers in Cyprus whose applications are pending.

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