The United Nations refugee agency has voiced “extreme concern” regarding the repatriation of over 100 Syrian nationals from Cyprus to Lebanon. The returnees are reportedly not being subjected to screenings to determine their need for legal protection or potential risk of deportation back to their conflict-ridden homeland.The UNHCR’s Cyprus office issued a statement expressing apprehension about the lack of legal and procedural safeguards during these transfers between countries. Such actions are deemed contrary to both international and European laws, as they could expose individuals to the grave risk of persecution, torture, and other forms of inhuman treatment, the agency warned.
These 109 migrants had originally arrived in Cyprus aboard three separate boats between July 29 and August 2. Subsequently, they were escorted back to Lebanon under the supervision of Cypriot police.In response to the UNHCR’s concerns, the Cyprus government asserts that these repatriations are being conducted lawfully in accordance with a bilateral agreement inked between Cyprus and Lebanon in 2004. This accord, according to Loizos Hadjivasiliou, a high-ranking official from the Interior Ministry, places the responsibility on Lebanon to halt illegal border crossings and the unauthorized movement of individuals departing from their territory.
Hadjivasiliou communicated to the Associated Press that the returnees are sent back to Lebanon, which the Cypriot authorities view as a safe haven providing benefits similar to those received by the hundreds of thousands of refugees already residing there. The officials believe that the individuals’ decision to embark on journeys to European Union member states is predominantly driven by economic reasons rather than immediate danger.
Lebanon is currently home to approximately 805,000 UN-registered Syrian refugees. Nevertheless, officials speculate that the actual count is notably higher, reaching between 1.5 to 2 million. Amid Lebanon’s severe economic crisis over the past four years, an increasing number of migrants—both Lebanese citizens and refugees—have attempted to escape via sea routes. An alarming statistic reveals that around 90% of Syrian refugees in Lebanon are living below the extreme poverty threshold, as reported by the UNHCR.