In an increasingly worrying context for migrants and refugees in Cyprus, with the recent escalation of violent racist attacks and discrimination against refugees on the island and the continued pushback policy, civil society organisations raise the alarm concerning Cyprus’ increased support to the Lebanese Army to harden border control and prevent departures.
A letter leaked on 26 September 2023, from the Cypriot Interior Minister to his Lebanese counterpart, reveals that Cyprus will provide Lebanon with 6 vessels and speedboats by the end of 2024, trainings for the Lebanese Armed Forces, will carry out joint patrol operations from Lebanese shores, and will finance the salaries of members of the Lebanese Armed Forces “who actively contribute to the interception of vessels carrying irregular migrants to Cyprus”. In this way, by providing equipment, funding and training to the Lebanese Army, Cyprus will have a determining influence, if not effective control, on the interceptions of migrants’ boats in Lebanese territorial waters and forced returns (the so-called “pullbacks”), to Lebanon. This in violation of EU and international law, which is likely to trigger legal liability issues. As seen in numerous cases, refugees, especially Syrians, who are pulled back to Lebanon are at risk of detention, ill-treatment and deportations to Syria where they are subject to violence, arrest, torture, and enforced disappearance. The worsening situation of Syrian refugees in Lebanon, who face increasing violence and deportations, confirms that Lebanon is not a “safe” third country.
As seen in the past with several examples from other examples at the EU’s external borders, (e.g. Turkey, Libya and most recently Tunisia), striking deals with EU neighboring countries of departure in order to increase border controls and contain migratory movements has several catastrophic consequences. Despite officially aiming at decreasing the number of lost lives, they actually increase border violence and deaths, leading to serious human rights abuses and violations of EU and international laws. They also foster a blackmail approach as third countries use their borders as leverage against European countries to get additional funds or negotiate on other sensitive issues, at the expense of people’s lives. All these contribute to having a negative impact on the EU and Member States’ foreign policy.
As demonstrated by a recent article from the Mixed Migration Centre, the most effective way to “disrupt the business model of smugglers” and reduce irregular departures, migrants’ dangerous journeys and the consequent losses of lives, is to expand legal migratory routes.
By going in the complete opposite direction, Cyprus, for many years now, has prevented migrants, asylum seekers and refugees from reaching the island in a legal way and from leaving the island for other EU countries1. Cyprus has resorted to systematic practices of pushbacks sending refugees back to countries where they are at risk of torture, persecution and arbitrary detention, has intensified forced returns, has dismantled the reception and asylum system, and has fueled a toxic anti-refugee narrative that has led to indiscriminate violent attacks that were initially against Syrian refugees and their properties in Chloraka and a few days later to against migrants and their properties in Limassol. More recently, Cyprus has also announced its willingness to push the EU and Member States to re-evaluate Syria’s status and consider the country as “safe” in order to forcibly return Syrian refugees to Syria – despite on-going clashes, structural human rights violations, crimes against humanity and war crimes.
These deadly externalisation policies and unlawful practices have and continue to kill individuals and prevent them from accessing their rights. A complete change in migration and asylum policies is urgently needed, based on the respect of human rights and people’s lives, and on legal channels for migration and protection. Cyprus, as well as the EU and its Member States, must protect the human rights of migrants at international borders, ensure access to international protection and proper reception conditions in line with EU and international human rights law. They must open effective legal migratory pathways, including resettlement, humanitarian visas and labour migration opportunities; and they must respect their obligations of saving lives at sea and set up proper Search and Rescue operations in the Mediterranean.
- CIHRS – Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies
- CLDH – Lebanese Centre for Human Rights
- GCR – Greek Council for Refugees
- Tamkeen for legal aid and human rights
- EuroMed Rights
- Far Right Watch Cy