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FM: 11,500 civilians fled Lebanon via Cyprus, number is growing
2006-07-20 13:04:56

Nicosia, Jul 20 -- Around 11,500 civilians have fled war-torn Lebanon via Cyprus since the Israeli strikes began and the number will rise. Today between four to eight thousand foreign and Cypriot nationals are expected to arrive at Cypriot ports.

For the better coordination of the situation, a meeting took place today at the Cypriot Foreign Ministry, in the presence of members of the Cabinet and the Police leadership

In statements after the meeting, Foreign Minister George Lillikas said that Cyprus has asked for other European countries to open up their borders and help evacuate non- combatants from Lebanon.

Moreover, the government of Cyprus has requested more aircrafts to arrive in Cyprus to carry all those foreign nationals who are fleeing Lebanon back to their homelands.

Today, Mr. Lillkas held a telephone conversation with his Finnish counterpart Erkki Tuomiya, whose country is holding the EU rotating presidency.

"He promised that together with the Commission, they would make every effort to respond to Cyprus' requests, acknowledging that only by a common European action, we will be able to offer our humanitarian services to all those people, and that Cyprus has exceeded itself and any other country in matters of offering its services", he said.

He clarified that "we will not offer long-term accommodation to those who are fleeing Lebanon. We are making efforts so that their stay is only for few hours, when needed. That is the reason why we have asked for more aircrafts, so that by the time they arrive at the ports, the soonest possible they will be transferred to Larnaca and Paphos airports for immediate departure to their countries".

"Until yesterday, 11,500 people have moved via our ports and their number is growing daily", he said.

In case there is a flow of Lebanese refugees towards Cyprus, he said that such possibility would be examined with the EU and the United Nations to coordinate actions, but clarified that there is no such issue yet.

"Based on the European policy, if there is flow of refugees from Lebanon, other European countries will have to accommodate them as well", he added.

Regarding the cost, the Foreign Minister said that there is some cost for the government of Cyprus, but most of it is covered by the countries whose nationals are affected.

But he noted that if the cost is unbearable, then Cyprus will ask for help from other countries.

"When it comes to saving lives, and because we have experienced human tragedy and war in 1974, the Republic of Cyprus will pay a cost" he added.

Besides European nationals, there are requests from the Philippines, Sri Lanka, the Ukraine, Russia, Mexico and India for Cyprus to accommodate their nationals who abandon war- torn Lebanon.

"Already, around 1,000 Indian nationals will be transferred from Lebanon via Cyprus back to India", he said.

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