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Migration agency chief warns that even more Syrians will leave Lebanon as donors cut back on aid

BRUSSELS (AP) — The number of Syrian refugees leaving Lebanon is likely to keep rising as donors cut back on aid, the head of the U.N.'s migration agency warned Tuesday, as pressure builds over their arrival on the Mediterranean island of Cyprus.

Amy Pope, director general of the International Organization for Migration, said that around 3,000 Syrians have left Lebanon since January, compared to 4,500 for the whole of last year. Many of them have headed to Cyprus, about 110 miles (180 kilometers) away.

In response, Cyprus suspended the processing of asylum applications by Syrian nationals earlier this month due to the large numbers. Cypriot authorities have reportedly dispatched police patrol vessels just outside Lebanese territorial waters to thwart refugee boats trying to head to Cyprus.

Pope told The Associated Press that governments are cutting aid funding to agencies working with people who have fled Syria, which has been ravaged by civil war for over 13 years, and that this is making things worse. At the same time, some Lebanese communities are getting tired of hosting them.

“My concern is that we will see it become increasingly difficult for Syrians to stay safely in Lebanon. And when people cannot stay safely in one place, they do what every human being will do, is look where they can go,” Pope said.

“The numbers are ticking up,” she said. “Lebanon is becoming a less hospitable place for them to stay.”

Asked why aid to Syrian refugees is being cut, Pope said: “Because the number of conflicts has gone up, because the Syrian populations have been displaced now for almost 10 years, because the assumptions are we can’t continue to fund Syrians when we have increasing numbers of people from different parts of the world.”

The Cypriot government says a crumbling Lebanese economy, coupled with uncertainty brought on by the Israeli-Hamas war and recent tit-for-tat strikes between Israel and Lebanon, has resulted in a huge number of boats overloaded with migrants – almost all Syrians – reaching the island.

Cypriot President Nikos Christodoulides and European Commission Chief Ursula von der Leyen are due in Beirut on Thursday to discuss a possible aid package.

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