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Cyprus Asks EU to Prevent Migrant Boat Departures from Syria

NICOSIA — Cyprus has asked the European Union to act swiftly to stop boats loaded with migrants from leaving Syria's port of Tartus, saying the east Mediterranean island nation is saturated and can't take in any more.

Interior Minister Nicos Nouris said Friday that EU member Cyprus is in a "state of emergency" because smugglers' boats have arrived daily from Syria over the past week, causing migrant reception centers to overflow.

"We are seeking from the European Commission its immediate and active intervention in order to prevent illegal departures from the Syrian coast and especially the port of Tartus," Nouris said.

He didn't say how he expected the EU to thwart migrant boat departures from Syria, but he insisted that the "capabilities are there." 

There have been several reports of new migrant arrivals along the southeastern coast of Cyprus, which is 100 miles (160 kilometers) from Tartus. Nouris said after one arrival, migrants including "many children" were taken off the boat and offered shelter in an ad-hoc coastal tent camp because the country's main reception center was full.

Nouris says Cyprus doesn't have the resources to host any more migrants and cannot be turned into a "massive migrant camp."

"We have all the good will to help people who are in real need, but at the same time, we can't to send a clear message that our capabilities aren't inexhaustible," he said. "We have long since exceeded our ability to host people."

Nouris said a chronic problem with delays in processing asylum claims has been overcome, and 4,000 such claims have been rejected. He said the real issue is the lack of bilateral agreements that would allow Cyprus to deport people with rejected asylum claims. 

He said Cyprus has consistently petitioned the EU to move ahead with repatriation agreements that would obligate countries to take back their citizens whose asylum claims have been rejected.

Cyprus has an agreement with neighboring Lebanon to prevent boats loaded with migrants from reaching its shores. But human rights groups say the agreement breaches international law because Cypriot authorities don't offer migrants the opportunity to file for asylum.

"Asylum claims cannot be examined at the point of departure, nothing in the law provides for this," said human rights lawyer Corina Drousiotou.

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