NICOSIA (Reuters) – Cyprus is expanding capacity to host refugees as it braces itself for a new influx of people fleeing deepening conflict in the Middle East, authorities said on Monday.
The number of asylum seekers arriving from the Middle East have been rising in recent years but a summer lull was disrupted in early October, after the latest outbreak of violence between Israel and Hamas has threatened spill over in the region.
Around 500 Syrians have arrived on the island on at least six separate occasions in the past nine days on boats which set off from the Lebanese coast, a number higher than usual.
Cyprus has relied on deepening cooperation with Beirut to help stem irregular migration through intercepting departures from Lebanon. But with the Israel-Hamas war raging and clashes on the Lebanese border with Israel escalating, Cyprus fears the exodus could gather pace.
The island lies about 170km (105 miles) west of Lebanon at its closest point.
Authorities will double the existing 1,000-person capacity of its primary reception centre close to the capital Nicosia, the Interior Ministry said. It has also asked the European Union for shelters and first-line reception officers.
“As things develop we need to take precautionary measures to effectively deal with any eventuality,” Cypriot government spokesman Konstantinos Letymbiotis told state TV.
(Reporting by Michele Kambas, editing by Ed Osmond)