NICOSIA — Cyprus has drawn up plans to take in up to 200,000 refugees from the fighting in Syria, where the crackdown by government troops against opposition forces has intensified in recent weeks.
While the figures are a worst-case scenario, the number is equivalent to a quarter of the population of the Republic of Cyprus, a huge burden at a time of economic upheaval.
If such a crisis does erupt, officials are hoping the European Union will step in to help.
“We do not know what will happen in Syria, but in our planning we have estimated up to 200,000 refugees could arrive,” Cyprus’s deputy Europe minister, Andreas Mavroyiannis, a former ambassador to the EU and the United Nations, told reporters.
“It will be a very big strain on us if it happens, so we will need help for sure,” he said during briefings in Nicosia.
In 2006, during a month-long war between Israel and Hezbollah in Lebanon, about 90,000 people fled to Cyprus by boat and on evacuation flights. Britain and the United States helped out, as many of those fleeing were foreign nationals.
At the time, Cyprus’s economy was riding high.
But now, three years into a European debt crisis, Cypriot banks have had to write off up to 80 percent of their large holdings of Greek bonds, the economy is in recession, property prices have fallen sharply and at least two banks are in need of immediate recapitalization. — Reuters