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Migration agreement with Lebanon the next EU challenge says Schinas

The next challenge for the European Union is an agreement on migration with Lebanon, said Margaritis Schinas, Vice-President of the European Commission, adding that there is real political will towards this direction.

In joint statements with the Interior Minister of Cyprus Konstantinos Ioannou following an inter-ministerial meeting at the Presidential Palace, in Nicosia, Schinas said that following the highly successful agreement with Egypt, the EU must definitely move towards a similar approach with Lebanon.

He noted the positive consequences such an agreement would have for Cyprus and expressed confidence that there is real political will towards this direction. However, he said that in order for this to happen, special preparation was needed.

“But I think it is absolutely realistic to move in a similar way towards Lebanon,” he said.

For his part, the Interior Minister said that the willingness and intention to proceed with such an agreement was very important.

He noted that although there were many factors that needed to be evaluated, the process has begun, something that Cyprus was also requesting, namely more support for Lebanon, with positive results for Cyprus and the rest of the EU in terms of irregular migrants arriving through maritime routes.

Re-evaluation of Syria’s status by EU “a complex process”


Regarding Cyprus’ request for the reclassification of certain areas in Syria, in order to be considered as safe zones for immigration purposes, Schinas noted that it’s a process that has begun and is ongoing, with responsibility of the European Asylum Support Office, which is comprehensively reassessing third countries, based on the contributions of member states.

“So, Cyprus has the opportunity to outline its policy priorities within this process. It’s a complex process. I don’t want to present easy solutions, but it’s certainly a real process, through which I believe we can continue to work towards the direction Cyprus desires,” he said.

He also noted that Syria continues to a large extent to be a war zone.

Ioannou said that almost 13 years later, it was high time to collectively assess the situation in Syria. “Our proposal for a reassessment of the data, based on the current realities prevailing in the country, and the classification, even in a pilot phase, of certain areas as safe, seems to gain ground among our other partners. The returns of Syrian nationals under strict conditions will relieve our reception and hosting systems and will contribute to the successful implementation of national strategies for the integration of migrants,” he said.

The Minister further stressed the importance of the agreement signed last Sunday between Egypt and the EU, which recognises Egypt’s role as a pillar of stability in the Eastern Mediterranean region and strengthens cooperation between the parties to address common challenges.

He also noted the need to combat the organised smuggling networks which exploit human lives.

“The recent tragedies with the loss of children on boats travelling to Cyprus intensify our concern and require decisive action to dismantle the networks of smugglers. Recognising that this is a form of organised crime that we must combat with all available means, we have proceeded with the establishment of a specialised unit within the Cyprus Police, with the exclusive mission of locating and arresting smugglers,” he said.

The Minister also briefed Schinas about the substantial improvement observed in Cyprus regarding irregular migrant crossings through the Green Line, as a result of a package of targeted measures combined with the implementation of policies included in the Action Plan for the Eastern Mediterranean.

Schinas: Cyprus is a “champion in migrant returns”


The Vice-President of the European Commission also said that “small Cyprus emerges as a European champion in migrant returns” with 60% more returns.

However, he noted that this fact is not a reason for complacency. He explained that even the adoption of the new Migration and Asylum Pact, which will fundamentally change the management for migration and asylum in Europe, was not enough on its own to solve the problems.

Schinas also noted that European support for the Republic of Cyprus in managing migration has been, is, and will remain non-negotiable.

He also referred to the major problem that existed a few years ago due to migrant arrivals through the Green Line, which has largely been addressed.

“We exerted a lot of pressure on airlines and all those involved in these phenomena. In this room, I remember we signed an action plan with the Republic of Cyprus. This was followed by the Plan we developed precisely to protect the Republic of Cyprus. We have funded over €250 million for expenses in reception centers, at the borders, and in all aspects related to migration,” he said.

He added that in the coming weeks, the College of Commissioners will decide and allocate an additional €50 million to Cyprus, while noting that they are working with the relevant services for better reception conditions, especially for unaccompanied minors.

EU closely monitors the situation in the Middle East


Responding to whether the EU conducts contingency exercises to prevent an increase in migration flows in case of escalation in the Middle East crisis, Schinas assured that the EU has been closely monitoring the situation and its potential impact on migration since the outset of the conflict between Israel and Hamas.

“So far, there is no apparent movement of such populations towards Europe. We have Palestinians undergoing asylum procedures in Greek islands, but we do not have new mass arrivals from the region,” he said.

He added that the current problem is not linked to Gaza but rather a problem at the borders of Egypt and Libya, which is being addressed through the new EU-Egypt agreement.