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8 EU members say conditions in Syria should be reassessed to allow voluntary refugee returns

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8 EU members say conditions in Syria should be reassessed to allow voluntary refugee returns
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8 EU members say conditions in Syria should be reassessed to allow voluntary refugee returns

2024-05-17 21:34 Last Updated At:21:40

NICOSIA, Cyprus (AP) — The governments of eight European Union member states said Friday the situation in Syria should be re-evaluated to allow for the voluntary return of Syrian refugees back to their homeland.

In a joint statement, officials from Austria, the Czech Republic, Cyprus, Denmark, Greece, Italy, Malta and Poland said they agree on a re-assessment that would lead to “more effective ways of handling” Syrian refugees trying to reach European Union countries.

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Cyprus' interior minister Konstantinos Ioannou, right, talks to the media during a press conference as his counterparts Austria's Gerhard Karner, left, and Czech's Vít Rakusan stand by during the Ministerial Summit Migration and Syria Dynamics in capital Nicosia, Cyprus, Friday, May 17, 2024. The governments of eight European Union member states say the situation inside Syria should be re-evaluated to allow for voluntary returns of Syrian refugees back to their homeland. (AP Photo/Petros Karadjias)

NICOSIA, Cyprus (AP) — The governments of eight European Union member states said Friday the situation in Syria should be re-evaluated to allow for the voluntary return of Syrian refugees back to their homeland.

Cyprus' interior minister Konstantinos Ioannou, second right, talks to the media during a press conference as his counterparts Austria's Gerhard Karner, left, Czech's Vít Rakusan, second left, and Greece's Minister Of Immigration and Asylum Dimitris Kairides, right, stand by, during the Ministerial Summit Migration and Syria Dynamics in capital Nicosia, Cyprus, Friday, May 17, 2024. The governments of eight European Union member states say the situation inside Syria should be re-evaluated to allow for voluntary returns of Syrian refugees back to their homeland. (AP Photo/Petros Karadjias)

Cyprus' interior minister Konstantinos Ioannou, second right, talks to the media during a press conference as his counterparts Austria's Gerhard Karner, left, Czech's Vít Rakusan, second left, and Greece's Minister Of Immigration and Asylum Dimitris Kairides, right, stand by, during the Ministerial Summit Migration and Syria Dynamics in capital Nicosia, Cyprus, Friday, May 17, 2024. The governments of eight European Union member states say the situation inside Syria should be re-evaluated to allow for voluntary returns of Syrian refugees back to their homeland. (AP Photo/Petros Karadjias)

Cyprus' interior minister Konstantinos Ioannou, second left, talks with his counterparts Austria's Gerhard Karner, left, Czech's Vít Rakusan, right, and Greece's Minister Of Immigration and Asylum Dimitris Kairides, second right, stand by, during the Ministerial Summit Migration and Syria Dynamics in capital Nicosia, Cyprus, Friday, May 17, 2024. The governments of eight European Union member states say the situation inside Syria should be re-evaluated to allow for voluntary returns of Syrian refugees back to their homeland. (AP Photo/Petros Karadjias)

Cyprus' interior minister Konstantinos Ioannou, second left, talks with his counterparts Austria's Gerhard Karner, left, Czech's Vít Rakusan, right, and Greece's Minister Of Immigration and Asylum Dimitris Kairides, second right, stand by, during the Ministerial Summit Migration and Syria Dynamics in capital Nicosia, Cyprus, Friday, May 17, 2024. The governments of eight European Union member states say the situation inside Syria should be re-evaluated to allow for voluntary returns of Syrian refugees back to their homeland. (AP Photo/Petros Karadjias)

Cyprus' interior minister Konstantinos Ioannou, left, talks with his counterparts Austria's Gerhard Karner, right, Czech's Vít Rakusan, second right, and Greece's Minister Of Immigration and Asylum Dimitris Kairides, second left, during the Ministerial Summit Migration and Syria Dynamics in capital Nicosia, Cyprus, Friday, May 17, 2024. The governments of eight European Union member states say the situation inside Syria should be re-evaluated to allow for voluntary returns of Syrian refugees back to their homeland. (AP Photo/Petros Karadjias)

Cyprus' interior minister Konstantinos Ioannou, left, talks with his counterparts Austria's Gerhard Karner, right, Czech's Vít Rakusan, second right, and Greece's Minister Of Immigration and Asylum Dimitris Kairides, second left, during the Ministerial Summit Migration and Syria Dynamics in capital Nicosia, Cyprus, Friday, May 17, 2024. The governments of eight European Union member states say the situation inside Syria should be re-evaluated to allow for voluntary returns of Syrian refugees back to their homeland. (AP Photo/Petros Karadjias)

Cyprus' interior minister Konstantinos Ioannou, second left, talks with his counterparts Austria's Gerhard Karner, left, Czech's Vít Rakusan, right, and Greece's Minister Of Immigration and Asylum Dimitris Kairides, second right, during the Ministerial Summit Migration and Syria Dynamics in capital Nicosia, Cyprus, Friday, May 17, 2024. The governments of eight European Union member states say the situation inside Syria should be re-evaluated to allow for voluntary returns of Syrian refugees back to their homeland. (AP Photo/Petros Karadjias)

Cyprus' interior minister Konstantinos Ioannou, second left, talks with his counterparts Austria's Gerhard Karner, left, Czech's Vít Rakusan, right, and Greece's Minister Of Immigration and Asylum Dimitris Kairides, second right, during the Ministerial Summit Migration and Syria Dynamics in capital Nicosia, Cyprus, Friday, May 17, 2024. The governments of eight European Union member states say the situation inside Syria should be re-evaluated to allow for voluntary returns of Syrian refugees back to their homeland. (AP Photo/Petros Karadjias)

The eight countries, which held talks during a summit meeting in the Cypriot capital, said the situation in Syria has “considerably evolved,” even though complete political stability hasn't been achieved.

Cyprus has in recent months seen an upsurge of Syrian refugees reaching the island nation primarily from Lebanon aboard rickety boats.

Earlier this month, the EU announced a 1 billion euro ($1.06 billion) aid package for Lebanon aimed at boosting border controls to halt the flow of asylum seekers and migrants to Cyprus and Italy.

The eight countries said the EU should further boost support for Lebanon to "mitigate the risk of even greater flows from Lebanon to the EU.”

“Decisions as to who has the right to cross a member state’s borders, should be taken by the government of the relevant member state and not by criminal networks engaged in migrant smuggling and trafficking in human beings,” the joint statement said.

The call comes a day afte r 15 EU member countries publicly called for the bloc to boost partnerships with countries along migratory routes in hopes of heading off attempts to reach EU countries.

The countries said that while they “fully embrace” the need to support Syrian refugees in line with international law, they hoped their talks could open a wider debate within the 27-member bloc on the process of granting the migrants international protection.

“What European citizens want from us ... are solutions, practical, realistic solutions that can be implemented,” said Greek Migration Minister Dimitris Kairidis.

Cypriot Interior Minister Constantinos Ioannou said the United Nations' refugee agency has already “established lines of communication” with Syrian authorities regarding possible voluntary returns in line with international law.

The Cypriot minister said returns would initially be on a voluntary basis, but that could develop into forced returns at a later stage. Much more needs to be done for that to happen because the government of Syrian President Bashar Assad isn't recognized by the EU, he said.

In Lebanon, where anti-refugee sentiment has been surging recently, more than 300 Syrian refugees returned to Syria in a convoy earlier this week.

Lebanese officials have long urged the international community to either resettle the refugees in other countries or help them return to Syria.

Cyprus' interior minister Konstantinos Ioannou, right, talks to the media during a press conference as his counterparts Austria's Gerhard Karner, left, and Czech's Vít Rakusan stand by during the Ministerial Summit Migration and Syria Dynamics in capital Nicosia, Cyprus, Friday, May 17, 2024. The governments of eight European Union member states say the situation inside Syria should be re-evaluated to allow for voluntary returns of Syrian refugees back to their homeland. (AP Photo/Petros Karadjias)

Cyprus' interior minister Konstantinos Ioannou, right, talks to the media during a press conference as his counterparts Austria's Gerhard Karner, left, and Czech's Vít Rakusan stand by during the Ministerial Summit Migration and Syria Dynamics in capital Nicosia, Cyprus, Friday, May 17, 2024. The governments of eight European Union member states say the situation inside Syria should be re-evaluated to allow for voluntary returns of Syrian refugees back to their homeland. (AP Photo/Petros Karadjias)

Cyprus' interior minister Konstantinos Ioannou, second right, talks to the media during a press conference as his counterparts Austria's Gerhard Karner, left, Czech's Vít Rakusan, second left, and Greece's Minister Of Immigration and Asylum Dimitris Kairides, right, stand by, during the Ministerial Summit Migration and Syria Dynamics in capital Nicosia, Cyprus, Friday, May 17, 2024. The governments of eight European Union member states say the situation inside Syria should be re-evaluated to allow for voluntary returns of Syrian refugees back to their homeland. (AP Photo/Petros Karadjias)

Cyprus' interior minister Konstantinos Ioannou, second right, talks to the media during a press conference as his counterparts Austria's Gerhard Karner, left, Czech's Vít Rakusan, second left, and Greece's Minister Of Immigration and Asylum Dimitris Kairides, right, stand by, during the Ministerial Summit Migration and Syria Dynamics in capital Nicosia, Cyprus, Friday, May 17, 2024. The governments of eight European Union member states say the situation inside Syria should be re-evaluated to allow for voluntary returns of Syrian refugees back to their homeland. (AP Photo/Petros Karadjias)

Cyprus' interior minister Konstantinos Ioannou, second left, talks with his counterparts Austria's Gerhard Karner, left, Czech's Vít Rakusan, right, and Greece's Minister Of Immigration and Asylum Dimitris Kairides, second right, stand by, during the Ministerial Summit Migration and Syria Dynamics in capital Nicosia, Cyprus, Friday, May 17, 2024. The governments of eight European Union member states say the situation inside Syria should be re-evaluated to allow for voluntary returns of Syrian refugees back to their homeland. (AP Photo/Petros Karadjias)

Cyprus' interior minister Konstantinos Ioannou, second left, talks with his counterparts Austria's Gerhard Karner, left, Czech's Vít Rakusan, right, and Greece's Minister Of Immigration and Asylum Dimitris Kairides, second right, stand by, during the Ministerial Summit Migration and Syria Dynamics in capital Nicosia, Cyprus, Friday, May 17, 2024. The governments of eight European Union member states say the situation inside Syria should be re-evaluated to allow for voluntary returns of Syrian refugees back to their homeland. (AP Photo/Petros Karadjias)

Cyprus' interior minister Konstantinos Ioannou, left, talks with his counterparts Austria's Gerhard Karner, right, Czech's Vít Rakusan, second right, and Greece's Minister Of Immigration and Asylum Dimitris Kairides, second left, during the Ministerial Summit Migration and Syria Dynamics in capital Nicosia, Cyprus, Friday, May 17, 2024. The governments of eight European Union member states say the situation inside Syria should be re-evaluated to allow for voluntary returns of Syrian refugees back to their homeland. (AP Photo/Petros Karadjias)

Cyprus' interior minister Konstantinos Ioannou, left, talks with his counterparts Austria's Gerhard Karner, right, Czech's Vít Rakusan, second right, and Greece's Minister Of Immigration and Asylum Dimitris Kairides, second left, during the Ministerial Summit Migration and Syria Dynamics in capital Nicosia, Cyprus, Friday, May 17, 2024. The governments of eight European Union member states say the situation inside Syria should be re-evaluated to allow for voluntary returns of Syrian refugees back to their homeland. (AP Photo/Petros Karadjias)

Cyprus' interior minister Konstantinos Ioannou, second left, talks with his counterparts Austria's Gerhard Karner, left, Czech's Vít Rakusan, right, and Greece's Minister Of Immigration and Asylum Dimitris Kairides, second right, during the Ministerial Summit Migration and Syria Dynamics in capital Nicosia, Cyprus, Friday, May 17, 2024. The governments of eight European Union member states say the situation inside Syria should be re-evaluated to allow for voluntary returns of Syrian refugees back to their homeland. (AP Photo/Petros Karadjias)

Cyprus' interior minister Konstantinos Ioannou, second left, talks with his counterparts Austria's Gerhard Karner, left, Czech's Vít Rakusan, right, and Greece's Minister Of Immigration and Asylum Dimitris Kairides, second right, during the Ministerial Summit Migration and Syria Dynamics in capital Nicosia, Cyprus, Friday, May 17, 2024. The governments of eight European Union member states say the situation inside Syria should be re-evaluated to allow for voluntary returns of Syrian refugees back to their homeland. (AP Photo/Petros Karadjias)

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Thousands in Kenya demonstrate against proposed new taxes

2024-06-21 11:31 Last Updated At:11:40

NAIROBI, Kenya (AP) — Thousands of mostly young people demonstrated Thursday in Kenya’s capital and across the country against new tax proposals by the administration of President William Ruto in its annual budget legislation.

The protests brought Nairobi’s central business district to a standstill as horse-riding riot police threw tear-gas cannisters and opened water cannons on demonstrators who advanced towards parliament buildings, where lawmakers debated the finance bill.

The protesters, who began their demonstrations in a first round on Tuesday, are demanding that lawmakers vote against the legislation, which is expected to be burdensome for salaried Kenyans, entrepreneurs and consumers. They say Ruto has gone back on his pledge to reduce taxes and lower the cost of living.

The new taxes would include a 2.75% levy on income for the national medical insurance plan, as well as increased taxes on vegetable oil and fuel, which would increase the cost of production and trickle down to the consumer.

Proposals to introduce a 16% value-added tax on bread and a new annual tax on motor vehicles were removed from the legislation Tuesday after a meeting between Ruto and ruling party members.

But those who demonstrated Thursday said the amendments did not go far enough and that they want legislators to totally reject the budget legislation.

“Our parents have been taxed dry, yet there’s no development to show for it. We reject any additional taxes and will stay on the streets for as long as it takes,” Ashley Mwai said.

The 19-year-old who has never voted said the new taxes have made her get involved in politics for the first time for the sake of her parents who do not have the energy to join protests.

“As much as I’m not earning an income yet, additional taxes will increase the prices of food and transport, making life unbearable for us young people,” Mwai said.

Businessman Walter Mwangi, 34, said he’s struggling to earn a living because taxes are already crippling his consultancy business. "We are sick and tired,” Mwangi said.

Lawmakers were debating and voting Thursday on the legislation in its second reading. It is due for its third and final reading next week. Meanwhile, demonstrators tried to breach a security cordon to access parliament buildings, carrying anti-government placards and chanting against Ruto.

The president was attending a university event in the southeastern town of Garissa where anti-government protesters lined the street leading to the event venue.

Young people also demonstrated in the president's home turf of Eldoret town, where they told journalists they had been duped into voting for Ruto.

Ruto said earlier in the week that the protests were a constitutional right, but that government institutions must carry out their mandate.

“We are a democratic country. Those who want to demonstrate it is their right, no problem. But decisions have to be made by institutions," Ruto said Wednesday.

"We will make decisions as an executive, take it to the legislature, people of Kenya will speak to it through public participation, others will subject it to court processes and that is how democracy works and I am a great believer in democracy,” he said.

Tuesday's protests saw more than 200 people arrested and later released.

The right to protest is enshrined in the Kenyan constitution and organizers have to notify police who often give a go-ahead unless there are security concerns. Previous anti-government protests in Nairobi have often been met by police force with protesters in the past shot at by the police.

A protester uses a fire extinguisher during a protest over proposed tax hikes in a finance bill that is due to be tabled in parliament in Nairobi, Kenya, Thursday, June 20, 2024. (AP Photo/ Andrew Kasuku)

A protester uses a fire extinguisher during a protest over proposed tax hikes in a finance bill that is due to be tabled in parliament in Nairobi, Kenya, Thursday, June 20, 2024. (AP Photo/ Andrew Kasuku)

Demonstrators run from police during a protest over proposed tax hikes in a finance bill that is due to be tabled in parliament in Nairobi, Kenya, Thursday, June 20, 2024. AP Photo/ Andrew Kasuku)

Demonstrators run from police during a protest over proposed tax hikes in a finance bill that is due to be tabled in parliament in Nairobi, Kenya, Thursday, June 20, 2024. AP Photo/ Andrew Kasuku)

Police officers fire tear gas canisters during a protest over proposed tax hikes in a finance bill that is due to be tabled in parliament in Nairobi, Kenya, Thursday, June 20, 2024. (AP Photo/ Andrew Kasuku)

Police officers fire tear gas canisters during a protest over proposed tax hikes in a finance bill that is due to be tabled in parliament in Nairobi, Kenya, Thursday, June 20, 2024. (AP Photo/ Andrew Kasuku)

Demonstrators run from police during a protest over proposed tax hikes in a finance bill that is due to be tabled in parliament in Nairobi, Kenya, Thursday, June 20, 2024. (AP Photo/ Andrew Kasuku)

Demonstrators run from police during a protest over proposed tax hikes in a finance bill that is due to be tabled in parliament in Nairobi, Kenya, Thursday, June 20, 2024. (AP Photo/ Andrew Kasuku)

A protesters throws back a teargas canister at police officers during a protest over proposed tax hikes in a finance bill that is due to be tabled in parliament in Nairobi, Kenya, Thursday, June 20, 2024. (AP Photo/ Andrew Kasuku)

A protesters throws back a teargas canister at police officers during a protest over proposed tax hikes in a finance bill that is due to be tabled in parliament in Nairobi, Kenya, Thursday, June 20, 2024. (AP Photo/ Andrew Kasuku)

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