Lebanon affirms deal to take back migrants sailing to Cyprus

Cyprus and Lebanon restate agreement for Lebanese authorities to take back migrants aboard boats trying to reach Cypriot shores

Lebanese Afaf Adulhamid the mother of Mohammed Khaldoun, 27, who is still missing at sea while he was trying with other migrants to reach Cyprus on a boat, cries and prays her son's safe return, as she stands on the coast of Tripoli city, north Lebanon Thursday, Sept. 17, 2020. Mohammed is one of scores of people who have tried in recent weeks to flee Lebanon that is passing through its worst economic and financial crisis in decades to European Union member Cyprus. (AP Photo/Hussein Malla)
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Cyprus and Lebanon on Tuesday reaffirmed an agreement for Lebanese authorities to take back migrants aboard boats trying to reach Cypriot shores.

Cypriot Interior Minister Nicos Nouris said Lebanese and Cypriot police and naval forces would intercept migrant boats departing from Lebanon.

Mr Nouris said EU member Cyprus and Lebanon would also seek assistance from the bloc's border agency, Frontex, in coastal surveillance.

“We’re sending out a clear message that we won’t tolerate anyone engaging in the trafficking of human beings and that we’re defending the interests of our two states,” Mr Nouris said after talks with Maj Gen Abbas Ibrahim, a senior official from Lebanon’s Interior Ministry.

The two said all migrants trying to reach Cyprus by boat would be returned.

“Any person who leaves Lebanon, in accordance with the deal reached with Cyprus, should be returned home in co-ordination between the two countries,” Gen Ibrahim said.

In recent weeks, several boatloads of migrants have sailed to Cyprus, which is 172 kilometres from Tripoli in Lebanon.

It has alarmed Cypriot authorities who say the island cannot handle any more migrants seeking asylum for economic reasons.

Gen Ibrahim said most of the migrants trying to reach Cyprus by boat were not Lebanese, and that refugees living in the country might be trying to flee worsening economic conditions.

“Living conditions in Lebanon have become more difficult because of the economic crisis that we are passing through, and this is what is maybe making these people migrate to nearby countries,” Gen Ibrahim said.

He said international agencies usually praised Lebanon for the way it treated more than one million migrants now living on its territory, but a worsening economy may be prompting many to flee.

Cyprus has come under fire from by human rights groups for allegedly sending back 200 migrants and refugees arriving from Lebanon aboard boats last month without heeding their claims for asylum, in some instances using violence and coercive tactics.

Mr Nouris said the Cypriot government received no such complaints and that Cypriot authorities acted lawfully and in line with EU directives.

He said all migrants were returned to Lebanon safely under a Cypriot police escort.