The head of the European Commission announced on Thursday, May 2, in Beirut, aid worth one billion euros to support the “socio-economic stability” of Lebanon. The funds will be “available from this year until 2027. We want to contribute to the socio-economic stability of Lebanon,” said Ursula von der Leyen, adding “to count on good cooperation” from the Lebanese authorities in the fight against illegal immigration to Europe.

Lebanon, hit by an economic crisis since 2019, says it hosts nearly two million Syrian refugees, the largest ratio per capita in the world. The small Mediterranean country, bordering Syria, continues to urge the international community to repatriate them, the weapons having fallen silent in several Syrian regions.

Migrants, asylum seekers and refugees who leave Lebanon by boat in search of a better life in Europe often head to Cyprus, which claims to be on the front line of migration flows within the European Union (EU). ).

Encourage voluntary return

“The current reality of this issue has become greater than Lebanon’s capacity to deal with it,” Lebanese Prime Minister Najib Mikati said at a press conference attended by von der Leyen and the Cypriot president. Nikos Christodoulides. “We renew our request to the EU, (…) to help people displaced in their country [of origin and not in Lebanon], to encourage them to return voluntarily,” he continued.

For its part, Cyprus, which reports an increase in arrivals of Syrian nationals, believes that the war between Israel and Hamas in Gaza, which triggered violence on the Israeli-Lebanese border, has weakened Beirut’s efforts to prevent departures.

From January to April 2024, more than 40 boats carrying around 2,500 people docked in Cyprus, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) told Agence France-Presse. Cyprus concluded an agreement with Lebanon years ago for the return of irregular migrants. The Cypriot president had already visited Lebanon on April 8 to discuss with Mr. Mikati the refugee issue and how to control the migratory flow to his country.