Refugees on aboat crossing the Mediterranean sea
Refugees on aboat crossing the Mediterranean sea

Cyprus-Lebanon: Stop systemic attacks to the right to asylum

In Arab Countries, International Advocacy Program by CIHRS

Over the last days, international media reported several attacks by Cypriot authorities against people fleeing Lebanon and Syria. People on board remained stuck at sea for several days, with no food nor water. Reportedly, three boats were forcibly returned to Lebanon, while the fate of the others remains unknown. These violent episodes come after last week’s announcement by the Cypriot government of the suspension of asylum procedures for Syrian applicants and previously the declaration that the country is facing a “migration crisis”.

2,000 people arrived in Cyprus by sea since the beginning of 2024, with the number rising in the last month due to the escalating tensions in Lebanon and the region. This increase in arrivals does not justify in any way the illegal and violent behavior of the authorities against people in distress at sea, nor the suspension of asylum applications of Syrians escaping the Syrian regime, and the extreme precarity and unsafety in Lebanon.

To respond to the alarms launched by the Cypriot government, the EU seems to be ready to negotiate a migration deal with Lebanon, following previous examples with Egypt and Tunisia. It is therefore more crucial than ever to stress that the situation of Syrians in Lebanon is extremely insecure: Syrians do not have access to international protection especially since Lebanese authorities asked UNHCR to de-facto stop registering Syrians in 2015. Left in a situation of irregularity, they do not have access to basic services and fundamental rights, and many live in extreme poverty. Since 2018, the Lebanese government has also strongly intensified the anti-Syrian propaganda and discrimination and forced deportations have been on the rise since. In April 2023, a wave of mass arrests and raids led to the deportation of several people to Syria, in contravention of the principle of non-refoulement. Similar attacks surged in Lebanon in the last weeks after the assassination of Pascal Suleiman a local representative of Lebanese Forces.

The constant threat of deportation to Syria and the extreme precarity faced by refugees in Lebanon, coupled with absent legal pathways for migration, leave no other alternative than boat migration. Rather than focusing on ensuring immediate access to protection, the EU response seems to be promoting once again short-sighted border control agreements to prevent departures. Especially in the current context of rising regional tensions in the Middle East, the response should be the opposite: ensuring a much wider access to legal pathways for migration and protection for people fleeing regimes and instability and supporting frontline states like Cyprus in ensuring proper reception conditions and access to international protection.

We, the undersigned organisations call for:

  1. Cyprus to immediately revoke the decision to suspend asylum procedures for Syrians and halt any push backs to Lebanon.
  2. The EU to condemn the illegal pushbacks and violence of Cypriot authorities at sea and support the Cypriot government to ensure proper reception, protection and relocation for refugees arriving to the island.
  3. The EU to prioritise access to protection for refugees in any cooperation with third countries, including Lebanon especially given the escalating regional tensions.
  4. Cyprus and the EU to stop any attempt to declare (part of) Syria safe and maintain a firm position against returns to Syria.


  1. Centre for Peace Studies Croatia
  2. CNCD-11.11.11
  3. Greek Council for Refugees (GCR)
  4. KISA
  5. EuroMed Rights
  6. European Network Against Racism (ENAR)
  7. Lebanese Centre for Human Rights (CLDH)
  8. Ligue des droits de l’Homme (LDH)
  9. Organisation Marocaine des Droits Humains (OMDH)
  10. Palestinian Human rights Organization (PHRO),
  11. Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies (CIHRS)

Share this Post