Cyprus calls for EU help with Lebanon evacuees
By Honor Mahony
Cyprus has called on the EU for help as it deals with the thousands of evacuees fleeing the Israeli offensive in Lebanon.
Makis Constantinides, the director-general of the Ministry of Communications and Works, said that the EU needs to recognise how much the evacuation effort is costing the Mediterranean island and offer help.
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"Right now Cyprus is the only outlet for foreigners from Lebanon. It is getting very difficult", he told Reuters news agency on Thursday (21 July).
"[We need] the other EU member states to put their ports and airports at the disposal of the [evacuation] operation and help Cyprus face this huge humanitarian problem," he added.
Some 12,000 are estimated to have come through the island since evacuations started on Monday.
For its part, the European Commission has said it will give €10 million in aid for Lebanon warning of a "humanitarian catastrophe" if the fighting goes on.
"We are facing a serious humanitarian crisis," said the commission's development spokesperson noting that there are already around half a million internally displaced people in Lebanon.
"But the figure could rapidly increase to one million if the fighting continues," he added.
Current head of the EU, Finnish prime minister Matti Vanhanen said the bloc is ready to take part in a UN force in the region.
"The EU stands ready to help. A strong international presence in southern Lebanon approved by the [UN] Security Council may be needed", he said in Finland on Thursday.
The international crisis which has prompted separate evacuation efforts from different member states is already sparking calls for better coordination at the EU level to respond to such crises.
Finland is expected to use its time at the helm of the EU, running until the end of this year, to call for the setting up of common regional consulate units for member
The Finnish foreign ministry undersecretary Hannu Himanen said the Lebanon crisis has made the question even more acute, according to newspaper Aamulethi.
Finland does not have an embassy in Lebanon and had difficulty evacuating Finns over the last few days.
The conflict, which was sparked by guerilla group Hezbollah's kidnapping of two Israeli soldiers on 12 July, has claimed around 300 lives and caused thousands of people to flee their homes in Lebanon.