- The Washington Times - Sunday, July 23, 2006

NICOSIA, Cyprus — Overwhelmed by a flood of foreigners fleeing Lebanon, Cyprus has issued an appeal for the European Union to open its borders.

More than 25,000 men, women and children have arrived in Cyprus on warships, helicopters and cruise ships chartered by their governments, but most have left the island after one or two days’ stay.

There is concern that the next wave of evacuees — estimated at 60,000 to 70,000 people — will be citizens of poor Asian countries who have no backing from their home governments such as that enjoyed by American and European evacuees.

“We expect the number to triple in the coming days,” said Cypriot Foreign Minister George Lillikas. “There has been a dramatic increase in requests from non-European countries hoping to use Cyprus for the evacuation of its citizens.”

About 8,000 new arrivals were expected in Cyprus yesterday, and 15 vessels were expected to bring in more French, Canadian, American and Indian evacuees by early today.

“Given our limited capabilities, we have exceeded ourselves,” said President Tassos Papadopoulos. “We are on Europe’s borders. This is not a Cypriot problem but a European one, therefore, we are expecting a response.”

A team of EU specialists was on its way to Cyprus to help coordinate the evacuation effort. But Finland is the only EU member that has offered to take evacuees, while Turkey, an EU candidate, has accepted about 3,000 evacuees at its Mersin naval base.

Cypriot officials say that the processing of Americans, Canadians, Australians and Europeans has been relatively easy to organize, but that the processing of Asian and other non-EU workers will be much more difficult.

“Most of them are household servants, and many had to surrender their passports to employers,” a government official said. “Few, if any, have the means to buy a ticket to their home country. Presumably, they expect to remain in Cyprus to return to Lebanon when the war is over.”

There are an estimated 30,000 Filipinos in Lebanon, most of them women working as maids. There also are about 40,000 workers from Sri Lanka, India and Bangladesh.

“Cyprus may have to play host to thousands of people who have nowhere to go,” said another official.

“If no help is forthcoming,” the English-language Cyprus Mail wrote in an editorial, “the government should seriously consider closing its ports to the evacuation operation. This may seem a harsh decision to take but Cyprus is too small to play permanent host to thousands of evacuees.”

Cyprus, whose 3,500-square-mile area is about equal to Delaware and Rhode Island combined, has had to cope with refugee problems through much of its independent existence.

After the 1974 Turkish invasion of the island’s north, about 150,000 Greek Cypriots fled to the south. Many lived for months at British military bases, while others were sheltered by families until emergency refugee housing was completed, some of it financed by the United States.

During Lebanon’s civil war in the late 1970s and 1980s, about 60,000 Lebanese Christians sought refuge on the “Isle of Aphrodite.” They were relatively affluent, and some of them brought their expensive cars aboard ferries and stayed for months in hotels.

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