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Cyprus Overwhelmed By War Refugees

Since the conflict in Southern Lebanon and Northern Israel began on July 12 of this year, nearly 40,000 people have fled to the small Mediterranean island of Cyprus (1) to escape the deadly fighting. Tens of thousands more are expected to follow (2). The Republic of Cyprus’ government has publicly expressed its limited capacity, and claims to be at risk of not being able to accept any more foreign visitors or refugees if other nations do not lend a hand (3).

As the displaced arrive by sea and air, volunteers are finding it difficult to provide shelter, food, and medical attention for the overwhelming number of refugees, this at the height of Cyprus’ busy tourist season. 350,000 tourists are expected in July, already packing hotels and airports to capacity.

In the capital city of Larnaca, the Civil Defense Force has been called up for the first time in Cypriot history in order to assist in the humanitarian effort (2). Though working closely with the International Red Cross and United Nations, urgent assistance from neighbor states has been requested by Larnaca (4). The European Union pledged Monday to help Cyprus cope with the sudden influx of evacuees, saying they will assist those who are affected by the conflict in returning to their home countries in a safe and timely manner (5).

Progress is slowly being made. An EU delegation has arrived in Larnaca and Turkey has joined the effort by receiving mostly Australian and Swedish refugees in the port of Mersin, north of Cyprus (6). While thousands are still arriving in Cyprus’ main ports of Larnaca and Limassol each day, the goal is to minimize the time refugees spend on the island by getting them home quickly. Planes are being made available, ships are on their way and humanitarian aid is being coordinated. What remains to be seen is how many Lebanese evacuees will remain in Cyprus for an extended period of time, having nowhere else to go and no longer having homes to return to. As the Israeli Defense Force intensifies efforts in Southern Lebanon, it becomes increasingly likely that Cyprus will be the unwitting safe haven for thousands of Lebanese. The Cypriot government says they are still working to determine if and how they can handle this possibility (1).


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