Empathetic Cypriots help evacuees from Lebanon

LARNACA – With memories of their own painful refugee crisis still lingering after 32 years, Cypriots have gone out of their way to help tens of thousands of evacuees from Lebanon who have been whisked to their island. Officials and volunteers rushed to ease the plight of more than 25,000 people who have reached Cyprus at the peak of its tourist season, many abandoning homes and families to flee Israeli bombings. «We know what it’s all about to be refugees,» said volunteer Isaac Kykkotis, an Orthodox priest working at a temporary reception center in Larnaca, the town which has received the bulk of evacuees. Braced to take in more than 8,000 more evacuees from Lebanon yesterday alone, Cyprus has already processed more than 25,000, and is readying itself to accept between 65,000 and 70,000 more. The influx has put an enormous strain on the infrastructure of the small island, with a population of less than 1 million, but if there is any sign of it yielding, it has yet to show. «There is no doubt on our side, the response of the Cypriot authorities and its people has been absolutely phenomenal,» said Brian Kelly, a spokesman for the United Nations in Cyprus. «If you look at their size, and the scale of this crisis, it’s quite extraordinary how they rose to the occasion.» An indoor basketball court in the Larnaca suburb of Kamares that has been turned into a reception center is near a settlement where tens of thousands of Greek-Cypriot refugees were housed after spending six years in tents. In Larnaca, neighborhood children turned up in droves at the center to assist workers in setting up folding beds. «I heard about it and thought we should help,» said 11-year-old Demetris Ioannou. Officials said the public’s response was overwhelming. «People in the neighborhood are coming to offer their services, we just had a couple of paramedics and they left us their mobile numbers and told us to call them for anything. We have companies donating food and nappies,» said Christos Kyriakides, commander of Cyprus’s civil defense unit. As children played tag in the yard and raced up and down ramps, mothers in Islamic headscarves sat feeding younger children in the hall. «They have been so kind, they have even organized playgroups for our children,» said 55-year-old Moses Waheed, a dairy worker from Copenhagen.