Evacuees cost Cyprus dearly but profits prevail

LARNACA (AFP) – Offering safe refuge to thousands of foreign nationals fleeing Lebanon has cost Cyprus well over 1.5 million dollars (1.8 million euros), but the resort island is benefiting on the whole, Cyprus’s finance minister said yesterday. Michalis Sarris said the daily cost of coping with the influx at the island’s ports was in the region of 100,000 Cypriot pounds (220,604 dollars or 173,771 euros). «The amount so far is one we can handle without too many problems,» Sarris said after visiting Larnaca port – the key transit point of the evacuation from Israel’s massive bombardment of Lebanon, now in its third week. He said the impact was softened by the 44,000 dollars (34,582 euros) a day received in landing and docking fees at ports and airports working round the clock to ensure the swift repatriation of evacuees. Moreover, he believed the holiday island had benefited from the influx of foreign nationals seeking accommodation. «At the moment our hotels have benefited from the fact that so many foreigners are coming through Cyprus, so the effect on the economy is not so significant,» he said. Latest official tourism figures indicate that Cyprus had seen a two-percent dip in tourist arrivals for the first six months of 2006 compared to last year. Since an unprecedented multinational sea lift from Lebanon to Cyprus started in earnest on July 17, some 47,000 foreign nationals have arrived on the island with around 41,000 already flying out. The minister said the local economy could be «adversely affected» if a prolonged crisis extended beyond Lebanon’s borders but argued Middle East instability made Cyprus more attractive to multinational companies. «In the medium term there will be positive developments because many of the businesses based in Lebanon will now choose Cyprus as their regional financial and economic centre,» he said. Cyprus started to buckle under the sheer weight of numbers it was having to absorb at the height of the mass exodus that coincided with the summer season peak. But the number of ships arriving at ports has subsided. «It appears we are no longer under enormous pressure or receiving large numbers of arrivals,» said Interior Minister Andreas Christou.