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After EU migrant deal with Egypt, Lebanon also possible, EU commissioner says

FILE PHOTO: EU Parliament plenary session in Strasbourg

NICOSIA (Reuters) - EU commissioner Margaritis Schinas said on Friday that the European Union could strike a deal with Lebanon to stem arrivals of migrants, as Cyprus complained it was being inundated by a surge in arrivals from the Middle East.

The EU has entered agreements with several countries to help them deal with increased migration burdens, and, ultimately, prevent a spillover into the 27 member states of the bloc. Rights groups have sharply criticised the pacts.

Schinas, the European Commission's vice president for promoting the European way of life, said a deal with Lebanon could be brokered along the lines of one the EU signed with Egypt on March 17. Considerable preparation was required, he said.

"We had worked with Egypt for quite some time, but I consider that it's absolutely realistic to move in a corresponding manner with Lebanon," he said during a visit to Cyprus.

Cyprus, the EU's easternmost state, lies just 100 miles (160 km) from Syria and Lebanon, and arrivals of asylum seekers have been rising in recent months. Lebanon is in economic crisis and also hosts hundreds of thousands of Syrian refugees.

In the space of one day, March 11, 458 Syrians arrived in Cyprus on six small boats. This month alone, authorities have registered 533 arrivals by sea, compared to 36 in March last year.

"Our country ... is facing asphyxiating pressure because of the large number of Syrians arriving in Cyprus," Interior Minister Constantinos Ioannou said after meeting Schinas.

Nicosia wants the bloc to consider declaring parts of war-ravaged Syria safe, which would allow authorities to repatriate people arriving from there.

U.N. data shows about 34,000 people have entered the EU through irregular channels so far this year, mostly across the Mediterranean.

(Reporting by Michele Kambas; Editing by Kevin Liffey)