NICOSIA: Rescuers in Cyprus yesterday saved more than 100 refugees fleeing the war in Syria after their boat ran into trouble overnight off the Mediterranean island, authorities said. The 114 people, including 54 women and children, had been aboard a small fishing boat about 40 nautical miles from the southern Cypriot port of Larnaca at the time they struck trouble, said a source in the island’s Joint Rescue Coordination Centre. Cyprus police said they had arrested three people who had admitted to smuggling the refugees, of whom more than half were transferred to a reception camp outside Nicosia yesterday.
The boat had departed from the Syrian port town of Tartus and stopped in Tripoli, in northern Lebanon, authorities said. Interior Minister Socrates Hasikos told reporters the refugees had been headed for Greece, with some hoping to travel on to other parts of Europe.
The boat was mainly carrying Syrian refugees, but also some Lebanese and Palestinians from Syria, Hasikos said. Cyprus, a member of the European Union, lies just 100 kilometers off the Syrian coast but has so far avoided a mass influx of refugees from the country’s conflict, with most preferring to bypass the island to reach the European mainland. Late on Saturday night, the boat’s captain sent a distress signal as the vessel was listing because its engine stopped working, prompting the police and army to launch a rescue operation, authorities said. All of those on board the stricken vessel were safely brought ashore to Larnaca by 7:00 am yesterday, police said.
Rescued children and babies
Some of them received first aid at the port, but “there were no serious injuries warranting a transfer to the hospital,” the interior minister said. Yesterday afternoon, three buses carrying 87 of the refugees reached the reception camp at Kokkinotrimithia outside Nicosia, officials said. Outside the centre, men and women were seen walking in past high barbed-wire fences, some carrying children and babies in their arms. Official news agency CNA said some others had asked for asylum and been taken to an asylum centre outside Larnaca.
Police spokesman Andreas Angelides said the three people arrested were expected to appear in court on Monday. Police said the three suspects – aged 47, 33 and 28 — faced charges of people trafficking. Local newspaper Phileleftheros reported that the boat’s captain was among them. “From the existing information it appears that each refugee paid more than 3,000 Euros ($3,345) each” for the journey, Angelides said.
Last September, some 345 Syrian and Palestinian refugees were rescued by a cruise liner in stormy waters off the island’s coast and housed for several months before their camp was closed. Two months later, about 220 Syrian refugees crammed onto a fishing boat were rescued off the coast of Turkish-occupied northern Cyprus after hitting rough seas. Europe has been facing an unprecedented influx this summer of people seeking refuge, many of them from war-torn Syria. The UN refugee agency says more than 2,500 people have died trying to cross the Mediterranean this year, many of them Syrian refugees desperate to escape their country’s four-and-ahalf year war. — AFP