Cyprus is asking the European Union to rethink on Syrian migration as a record number of refugees reach the Mediterranean island.

In an interview with Reuters, Cyprus’ Minister for Interior Constantinos Ioannou said the Nicosia government want the EU to consider declaring parts of the refugees’ war-torn homeland safe to repatriate them.

“Starting a discussion to re-evaluate the issue of Syria is crucial for us,” he told Reuters.

He added that the foreign ministry will formally raise the matter with Brussels.

Data shows that most of the refugees that arrive in Cyprus are from Syria with Ioannou saying they have “five times more migrants than any other frontline member state.”

Amid the growing conflict in the Middle East, Cyprus is bracing for an increase refugee and asylum-seeker arrivals, which will further strain resources.

These resources are said to be expanded on, with more capacity but Cyprus wants its EU partners to revaluate its policies.

As well as the discussion on Syria and whether it is safe for refugees to return there, Ioannou said that better support is needed for Lebanon, which hosts hundreds of thousands of refugees.

Back in February, the European Union Agency for Asylum (EUAA) reported that two Syrian governates – Damascus and Tartous – had no real risk for a civilian to be personally affected by indiscriminate violence”.

Since 2016, when the EU closed the Turkish springboard to the Greek islands, Cyprus has become a migrant hotspot.

Asylum applications on the island peaked in 2022 at 21,565, the highest since records began in 2002.

In October, 1043 Syrians arrived to Cyprus by boat, three times more than last year, and in November there were 795 arrivals, again triple that of 2022.

This rise is pinpointed to the anomaly of the country. From 2019-2022, Cyprus became the frontline of a new migrant route from Africa, when thousands entered the unrecognised Turkish Cypriot north on student visas, and were then smuggled through a ceasefire line to the internationally-recognised Greek Cypriot south.

That pathway has been virtually removed with tighter security along the 180km ‘green line’ seeing overall arrivals down by two thirds. However, authorities say Syrian arrivals by sea are rising.

Reuters say that the time between Lebanon and Cyprus with a small fishing boat and calm seas is 18-20 hours.

“In the last two years there has been a dramatic increase, with its peak since August this year,” said Superintendent B’ Ioannis Artemiou, head of the port and marine police unit of Famagusta.

As mentioned earlier, Cyprus believes the EU should offer Lebanon more direct assistance – Ioannou says Cyprus was in close contact with Lebanon and has offered technical assistance and joint patrols.

He also floated the idea of “safe zones” outside the EU where asylum requests could be examined, with Italy already announcing a plan to build centres in Albania.