Cyprus worried about potential Syrian refugees
29.05.12 @ 21:32
BRUSSELS - The incoming Cypriot EU presidency is worried that Syrian refugees could arrive en masse in the island-nation and in the EU more broadly if the conflict gets worse.
Cyprus, located around 170 km west of Syria, is drawing up plans in case Syrian boat refugees arrive on its coast, a Cypriot source told this website.
Syrian refugees have so far made their way across land borders to Lebanon, Jordan, Iraq and Turkey.
The UN estimates that there were 43,000 of them registered as of April in the four countries, with another 12,000-or-so unregistered people also displaced in the region.
Turkey, which shares a 900-km-long border with Syria, has over half of all registered refugees stationed mostly in camps in the Hatay province.
Few Syrians have sought asylum in the EU so far. Around 700 filed for protection at EU airports in 2011. About 1,200 Syrian migrants were detected attempting to cross land borders last year according to the EU's border control agency, Frontex.
The weekend massacre in Houla in western Syria on Friday (25 May) has raised concerns many more could come in future.
Over 100 people were killed, including 49 children and 34 women, when government forces shelled the village. Reports indicate that government-controlled militia, or "shabiha," later went from house to house killing people by hand.
Last year's Arab Spring uprisings saw 25,000 Tunisian migrants arrive on the small Italian island of Lampedusa, even though the Tunisian revolution was mostly peaceful.
The island was unprepared for the influx. Many of the Tunisians had to sleep rough, while others tried to go France, but were forced back to Italy.
The scenario of another refugee crisis could further complicate prospects of finalising the EU's Common European Asylum System (Ceas), due before the end the year.
Ceas is high on the EU Cypriot presidency's agenda and the Cypriot source added that "solidarity and effectiveness" will be needed to finalise it.
But a draft regulation and a directive on asylum are currently stuck in the council, with the Danish EU presidency hoping to find a middle-ground among dissenting member states before July.