EU Members Discuss Voluntary Return Of Syrian Refugees Amid Lebanon Crisis

Eight European Union countries are pushing for a re-evaluation of the situation in Syria to facilitate the voluntary return of Syrian refugees. Officials from Austria, the Czech Republic, Cyprus, Denmark, Greece, Italy, Malta and Poland held talks in Nicosia, Cyprus, on Friday where they agreed on the need for a reassessment.

The countries said conditions in Syria have “considerably evolved” although complete political stability remains elusive. Cyprus has experienced an influx of Syrian refugees arriving from Lebanon in recent months.

The EU recently announced a €1 billion aid package for Lebanon to strengthen border controls and stem the flow of asylum seekers and migrants to Cyprus and Italy. The eight countries called for further EU support to Lebanon to mitigate the risk of even greater refugee flows.

Cypriot Interior Minister Constantinos Ioannou said the UN refugee agency has established communication with Syrian authorities regarding potential voluntary returns in line with international law. He suggested returns could initially be voluntary but may later become forced acknowledging the challenges posed by the EU’s non-recognition of the Syrian government.

In Lebanon, more than 300 Syrian refugees returned to Syria in a convoy earlier this week amid surging anti-refugee sentiment. Lebanese officials have long called on the international community to resettle the refugees or help them return to Syria.

The eight countries said that while they fully support Syrian refugees under international law, they hope their talks can spark a broader EU debate on the process of granting international protection to migrants.