Cyprus has formally called on the European Union to reassess which areas of Syria can be described as safe and free from armed conflict so that Syrian migrants can eventually be repatriated there, Cypriot authorities said on Friday.
Interior Minister Constantinos Ioannou was the only official to raise the issue at an informal gathering of his EU counterparts in July in Spain. No other EU state has taken an official position on the reassessment of the safe zone, the interior ministry told The Associated Press.
Cyprus is leading the re-evaluation offer because it says its proximity to the region has now made it a prime destination for Syrian migrants.
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Ethnically divided Cyprus, with a population of nearly one million in the southern, internationally recognized part where migrants seek asylum, says migrants now make up 6% of its population – far higher than the average in other EU member states.
War-torn Syria has been characterized for the past 12 years as an insecure country where indiscriminate violence poses a real risk to the safety of its citizens. The threat makes them eligible for international protection status that allows them to live and work in third countries.
The Cyprus government is proposing that the EU review whether conditions on the ground in Syria – or parts of the country – have changed enough for Syrians to be safely repatriated.
The practical details of how such repatriations would be carried out could be decided later. One possibility would be to start repatriating Syrians from the declared safe zones, according to the Cypriot ministry.
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About 40% of the 7,369 migrants who have applied for asylum in Cyprus in 2023 by the end of August are Syrian.
The European Union’s Asylum Agency says there is no “real risk” to civilians from indiscriminate violence in just one of Syria’s 13 districts – Tartus. In four others, including Lattakia, Damascus, Homs and Quneitra, indiscriminate violence is not “at a high level”.
The U.N. refugee agency told the AP that it is “not currently aware of discussions within the EU regarding a change in policy on returns to Syria,” but that any repatriation of refugees must be voluntary and on an individual, not group, basis.
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“UNHCR and other mandated humanitarian organizations must have access to the entire territory of Syria to monitor return conditions, independently assess needs and provide services to all, based solely on need,” it said. the service.