EU announces 1 billion euros in aid for Lebanon amid surge in irregular migration from country

May 3, 2024 by No Comments

The European Union announced on Thursday an aid package of 1 billion euros, or approximately $1.06 billion, for Lebanon, with much of the funds going towards strengthening border control to halt the flow of asylum seekers and migrants from the small, crisis-stricken country to Cyprus and Italy. The deal follows other EU aid packages provided to countries such as Egypt, Tunisia, and Mauritania to fortify their borders. It comes amid an increasing flow of irregular migration of Syrian refugees from Lebanon to Cyprus.

European Union Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said during a visit to Beirut with Cypriot President Nikos Christodoulides that aid distribution will begin this year and continue until 2027. The bulk of the aid, 736 million euros, would support Syrian refugees “and other vulnerable groups” in Lebanon, while 200 million euros are intended to strengthen Lebanese security services in enforcing border and migration control. An unspecified amount would go to Lebanese fishermen to discourage them from selling their boats to smugglers.

Von der Leyen said the EU will also work on a “more structured approach to voluntary return” of Syrian refugees “in close cooperation with” the UN refugee agency. The bloc will continue to maintain “legal pathways” for resettlement of refugees in Europe, she said. Lebanon’s caretaker Prime Minister Najib Mikati praised the package, saying that “Lebanon’s security is security for European countries and vice versa,” and that an escalation of the crisis “will not be limited to Lebanon but will extend to Europe.”

Lebanon, which has been in the throes of a severe financial crisis since 2019, hosts nearly 780,000 registered Syrian refugees and hundreds of thousands more who are unregistered, the world’s highest refugee population per capita. Lebanese political officials have for years urged the international community to resettle the refugees in other countries or assist their return to Syria — voluntarily or not. Lebanese security forces have stepped up deportations of Syrians over the past year.

Tensions further flared after an official with the Christian nationalist Lebanese Forces party, Pascal Suleiman, was killed last month in what military officials said was a botched carjacking by a Syrian gang. The incident prompted outbreaks of anti-Syrian violence by vigilante groups. Meanwhile, Cypriot authorities complain the island nation has been overwhelmed by irregular migration of Syrian asylum seekers, many of them coming on boats from Lebanon.

The UNHCR in Lebanon said it had verified 59 “actual or attempted” departures by boats carrying a total of 3,191 passengers from Lebanon between January and mid-April, compared to three documented boat movements carrying 54 passengers in the same period last year. Usually, few boats attempt the much more dangerous crossing in the winter. In all of 2023, UNHCR recorded 65 boat departures carrying 3,927 passengers.

Cyprus has taken a new approach to halting the flow of migrants. Last month, it suspended processing of Syrian asylum applications, and human rights groups accused the Cypriot coast guard of forcibly turning back five boats carrying about 500 asylum seekers coming from Lebanon. Cypriot officials have denied this.