The New Eastern Mediterranean Crisis
While much of the world remains distracted by the COVID-19 pandemic, Turkey is trying to reshape its geopolitical neighborhood, and Lebanon is descending into another domestic crisis. The situation is ripe for another migration crisis, for which European countries are woefully unprepared.
NICOSIA – Earlier this month, six boats carrying Syrian and Lebanese migrants set sail from northern Lebanon and attempted to dock in Cyprus. That might not sound like much, yet it is six times more than the total number of migrant vessels that have embarked for Cyprus from Lebanon over the last year. A fast boat can cover the 100 nautical miles between Tripoli and Cape Greco, a rocky outcrop in the southeast of the island, in six hours. And with Lebanon’s government in shambles, these calm, largely unpoliced waters are a smuggler’s dream.
Because the boats are small, only a few dozen people have made the trip so far. Already, though, the Cypriots have responded in a legally dubious manner. Violating the United Nations’ 1951 Refugee Convention and the non-refoulement principle, Cypriot authorities block the boats at sea and return the “economic migrants” to Lebanon, claiming they have an agreement with the Lebanese government.
In fact, Cyprus is simply unprepared for a new influx of refugees. Its prison-like migrant camps are already overcrowded, and its asylum system is a thicket of Byzantine bureaucracy and convoluted laws. Processing an asylum application currently takes 3-5 years. And while the government has recently tried to legislate its way out of the mess, concerns about refugee rights and due process remain.