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Cyprus president asks EU Commission chief to get Lebanon to stop migrants from leaving its shores

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NICOSIA, Cyprus (AP) — The president of Cyprus said on Tuesday that he has personally asked the head of the European Union’s executive arm to intercede with Lebanese authorities to stop boatloads of Syrian refugees from heading to the east Mediterranean island nation.

President Nikos Christodoulides told reporters that Lebanon is the beneficiary of significant EU financial aid for both its own citizens and for the hundreds of thousands of Syrian refugees it continues to host, but that doesn’t come without strings attached.

“This aid can’t be given while we have to deal with this issue,” Christodoulides said, adding that he personally spoke with EU Commission Chief Ursula von der Leyen.

In the last 48 hours, more than 350 migrants and asylum seekers, almost exclusively Syrian nationals, arrived in Cyprus by boat, according to Cypriot government spokesman Constantinos Letymbiotis. It’s believed more boatloads of migrants are on their way.

Last month, some 450 Syrian migrants aboard six boats were spotted off the southeastern coast of Cyprus within a 24-hour span. All six boats had departed from Lebanon.

“It’s not only the Republic of Cyprus but the EU itself that is facing a serious problem, given these phenomena we have seen in recent days,” Christodoulides said.

The EU is willing to give Lebanon more money to cope with the huge number of refugees it hosts, but “for this thing to happen, Lebanon shouldn’t allow migrants to leave and come to Cyprus,” he added.

The Cypriot president also said the recent seaborne influx of Syrian migrants has put Cyprus back into “crisis mode” despite managing in recent months to repatriate more migrants who had their asylum applications rejected than those arriving.

Christodoulides chaired an ad-hoc meeting of top police and government officials Tuesday in an effort to come up with ways of dealing with the sudden migrant influx.

He said his government could adopt additional, temporary measures designed to help authorities cope with the influx that may not be “liked” by Cypriots. He did not elaborate.

Meanwhile, Cyprus said a government proposal to enable repatriations of Syrian refugees by designating specific areas within the country as safe zones is “gaining ground” among the island nation’s fellow EU member states.

Justice Minister Constantinos Ioannou said that given the potential risk of the Israeli-Hamas war in Gaza engulfing Lebanon and other Middle Eastern states, it’s incumbent on the EU to reach a collective decision on Syria.

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Follow AP’s global migration coverage at https://apnews.com/hub/migration

By MENELAOS HADJICOSTIS
Associated Press

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