Cyprus Says 8 EU States Back Plan to Return Syria Refugees

Migrants leave Pournara refugee camp during clashes in Kokkinotrimithia on the outskirts of Nicosia, Cyprus October 28, 2022. (Reuters)
Migrants leave Pournara refugee camp during clashes in Kokkinotrimithia on the outskirts of Nicosia, Cyprus October 28, 2022. (Reuters)
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Cyprus Says 8 EU States Back Plan to Return Syria Refugees

Migrants leave Pournara refugee camp during clashes in Kokkinotrimithia on the outskirts of Nicosia, Cyprus October 28, 2022. (Reuters)
Migrants leave Pournara refugee camp during clashes in Kokkinotrimithia on the outskirts of Nicosia, Cyprus October 28, 2022. (Reuters)

Cyprus said Friday it is among at least eight EU member states who want safe zones to be declared in parts of Syria to allow the repatriation of refugees from its more than decade-old civil war.

The Mediterranean island, which is much the closest EU member state to Syria, was hosting a conference of member states who support its proposal, just days after the 27-member bloc signed off on a major overhaul of its migration and asylum policies.

The other participants were Austria, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Greece, Italy, Malta and Poland. The eight countries are part of a wider group of 15 member states, who called Wednesday for "new ways" to handle irregular migrants, including sending some to third countries, as the bloc plots out how to implement its overhaul of asylum policy.

Cypriot Interior Minister Constantinos Ioannou said the eight governments believe that after 13 years of conflict, the bloc needs to reassess changing security conditions in Syria.

"It is time for the European Union to... redefine our stance" on Syria, Ioannou said in a statement.

"Stability in the country has not been fully restored... (but) we must expedite the processes to take all necessary measures to create conditions that will allow the return of individuals to Syria," he added.

Less than 200 kilometres (125 miles) away across the eastern Mediterranean, Cyprus has long been a favored destination for Syrian refugees and arrivals have risen sharply in recent months. In a bid to stem the influx, the government has stepped up maritime patrols and suspended the processing of asylum applications for Syrians, denying arrivals access to benefits.

The Cypriot minister also called for more financial support for Lebanon, a major transit country which has been mired in economic crisis since 2019. "If Lebanon is left to collapse, the consequences for the entire European Union will be incalculable," he said.

Lebanon says it hosts around two million people from neighbouring Syria -- the world's highest number of refugees per capita -- and needs help from donor governments.

The EU approved $1 billion in aid for Lebanon earlier this month to help it stem the exodus of Syrian refugees seeking to reach Europe. But the bloc's focus on preventing refugees reaching its shores rather than helping them return to their homeland has sparked criticism in Lebanon and beyond.



Iran Top Court Overturns Rapper Toomaj Salehi’s Death Sentence, Lawyer Says

People hold placards bearing portraits of Iranian rapper Toomaj Salehi, who is arrested in Iran, and portraits of children (L), who were killed during the protests in Iran, during a rally in support of Iranian women in Istanbul, on November 26, 2022. (AFP)
People hold placards bearing portraits of Iranian rapper Toomaj Salehi, who is arrested in Iran, and portraits of children (L), who were killed during the protests in Iran, during a rally in support of Iranian women in Istanbul, on November 26, 2022. (AFP)
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Iran Top Court Overturns Rapper Toomaj Salehi’s Death Sentence, Lawyer Says

People hold placards bearing portraits of Iranian rapper Toomaj Salehi, who is arrested in Iran, and portraits of children (L), who were killed during the protests in Iran, during a rally in support of Iranian women in Istanbul, on November 26, 2022. (AFP)
People hold placards bearing portraits of Iranian rapper Toomaj Salehi, who is arrested in Iran, and portraits of children (L), who were killed during the protests in Iran, during a rally in support of Iranian women in Istanbul, on November 26, 2022. (AFP)

Iran's supreme court has overturned Iranian rapper Toomaj Salehi's death sentence on charges linked to the country's 2022-23 period of unrest, his lawyer wrote in a post on the X social media platform on Saturday.

"The death sentence of #Toomaj_Salehi was overturned and based on the appeal decision ...of the Supreme Court, the case will be referred to (another) branch for consideration," attorney Amir Raisian wrote on X.

There was no immediate official confirmation of the ruling.

Salehi's songs supported protests sparked by the death in police custody of Mahsa Amini, a young Kurdish Iranian woman arrested for allegedly wearing an "improper" hijab.