Cyprus is ready to facilitate the evacuation of Cypriot, EU and other citizens from Syria and Lebanon, Foreign Ministry Consular Affairs Department Head Stavros Avgoustides has told the Cyprus News Agency. Avgoustides said that Cyprus has been preparing for a long time now for the repatriation of Cypriot citizens due to the crisis in Syria and Lebanon and with a view to provide facilities to European and third country nationals leaving the two countries

. He also said that the Foreign Ministry warned a long time ago Cypriots staying in Syria and Lebanon that they should not remain there. Asked if any requests for help were submitted until now, Avgoustides replied negatively noting that airports in the two countries are open and people can travel to and from them. He expressed the belief that there will be an influx of refugees from the two countries to Cyprus once Lebanon gets involved in the conflict, noting that the number of refugees will increase if there is an intervention from Western countries. Avgoustides said that refugees prefer to flee to countries that border the two countries by land, as Turkey and Jordan, but Cyprus certainly remains an alternative for them.

He said that there are special plans for the provision of facilities to European and third country nationals who wish to use Cyprus as a transit country. “We have national plan ‘ESTIA’ that provides for the repatriation of Cypriots and the evacuation of European citizens as well as third country nationals and the provision of services to them during their arrival to Cyprus,” he noted, adding that “several exercises took place during the past years and we are ready to address such an event as we did in the past successfully.”

He said that meetings regarding the situation in the region have been taking place at the Ministry, adding that Cyprus EU partners have been informed and are aware of “ESTIA” plan. “We are cooperating with them as well as with the Americans, the Canadians, the Australians,” he added. He said that all competent authorities of the Republic of Cyprus are involved in this plan, headed by the Foreign Ministry. Responding to another question, Avgoustides said that Cypriot diplomats and other individuals in these countries are familiar with the danger they are faced with and have learned to live with it”, adding that they will be repatriated “if circumstances oblige us to do so”.

He also noted the cases of children whose one parent is a non-Cypriot national and who have been transferred from their foreign parent – usually their father – to Middle East countries, without the consent of their Cypriot parent. “Some of these children whose parents are Syrians are now in Syria. This is an issue that concerns us a lot as up until now we have not been able to bring these children back, as in Middle East countries it is fathers who have custody of their children,”

he added. He said that the Foreign Ministry continues efforts to contact these parents in order to reach a compromise and convince them to bring the children back to Cyprus, adding that that Cypriot state could not undertake any initiative that would put the lives of these children into danger. Asked about the travel advices concerning the regions affected by the unrest, Avgoustides said that “for Lebanon there is an advice to avoid visiting certain areas” adding that “for Syria the advice for not travelling there is indispensible.” He also recalled the travel advice issued by the Foreign Ministry for Egypt.

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