Address by the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Mr Nikos Christodoulides, at the final phase of the Multinational Exercise "Argonaut/Estia"
I wish to welcome all of you here, today, to the final phase of the annual civil-military Exercise “Argonaut 2019”. A multi-faceted exercise, which has been established in the past few years as the only civil-military Exercise that addresses, among others, the vital aspect of non-combatant evacuation operations. We are very pleased to witness year-by-year the constant increase of foreign participants and observers. The fact that this year we have 21 countries as active participants reflects the recognition of the value of the exercise.
This increased interest is not just the result of the high level of the exercise and its importance, but also demonstrates the realization of the deep challenges and complexities that characterize the greater Middle East, which render it imperative to jointly intensify our vigilance and preparedness. Cyprus, due to its geographical position, has an important role to play as a “safe transfer hub”. The Government of the Republic of Cyprus is willing and ready to assume this responsibility to secure the interests of our close partners and for the benefit of the international community.
Preparedness can be pre-tested and improved in a non-crisis environment. This is the aim of this two-day table-top exercise, coordinating the procedures of the National Plan "Estia" and of the Non Combatant Evacuation Operations Coordination Group (also known as NEO), which presently comprises 19 member nations, plus the European External Action Service (EEAS). The final phase is the Live Exercise, which we will observe unfold this evening at the north quayside and in the Passengers Terminal of the Larnaca Port.
Ladies and gentlemen,
It was thirteen years ago, when Cyprus was used for the first time as a “safe haven” for an evacuation operation of civilians during the Lebanon crisis of 2006. There was no actual contingency plan at that time, yet the services of the Republic of Cyprus, responded timely and effectively and gained the trust and appreciation of international partners. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Civil Defence along with its volunteers, the Police, the Medical Services, the Social Services, the National Guard, the Customs Department, the Immigration authorities, the Port and Airport authorities, the Civil Society, the Red Cross - everyone worked in coordination and cooperation, along with Foreign diplomats and foreign crisis teams stationed in Cyprus, to handle an influx of nearly 60.000 civilian evacuees and address their vital needs.
This accumulated experience of collaboration and coordination was codified in the “Estia National Action Plan”. Beyond this final phase, in the past two days, other phases of the “Estia” plan were practiced at three other locations around Larnaca, namely at the indoor arena of the KITION Sports Centre, which is intended to serve as one of the contingency temporary lodging areas, at the Zenon Coordination Centre next to the airport, and at the Larnaca Civil Defence premises.
We believe that contingency planning is not supposed to remain in dark drawers. It must be scrutinized and further improved through drills and joint brainstorming. This is the prime purpose of Argonaut exercise: to test, assess and improve existing action plans in order to be ready for a real emergency. Being fully prepared is half the way to a successful operation, which at times of crisis, can save human lives and alleviate the pain for those suffering.
In closing, I would like to express our special thanks to all the countries, and all the services of the Republic participating to the drills and for making once again “Argonaut 2019” a success.
Thank you very much for being with us today. I wish you all success.
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