Four boats filled with migrants from Lebanon and Syria have reached Cyprus within the past few days, adding to the refugee crisis in the eastern Mediterranean, the Cyprus Mail reported on Sunday. At least 123 migrants were on board the boats, said Cypriot police; half were allowed to disembark.
Fifty of the migrants landed in a UN controlled buffer zone separating the Turkish Cypriot north and Greek Cypriot south of the island. They were transferred to a reception centre by UN peacekeepers.
According to Associated Press, the group contained men, women and children. Four of those on board have been detained on suspicion that they were crewmembers and are set to be investigated for people smuggling.
Twenty Syrian migrants, including one woman and a child, were transferred to a reception centre in Cyprus after arriving in the UN buffer zone early on Sunday morning. Meanwhile, 33 migrants who arrived in Cypriot waters on Saturday afternoon have been returned to Lebanon on a boat chartered by local authorities. This move was in accordance with a Cyprus-Lebanon agreement to prevent migrants from reaching European territory; Cyprus is a member of the EU.
A further 21 migrants remain adrift off the south-east coast of Cyprus due to mechanical failure. Three woman and nine children who were onboard the faulty vessel have been evacuated to a Cypriot hospital as a precaution, explained local police.
According to an expert quoted by Arab News, September, October and November are the prime months for boats leaving Lebanon to attempt the 90km crossing to Cyprus because of the calm weather. The number of such boats attempting the crossing has risen rapidly in the past month, however, after a massive explosion rocked Lebanon’s capital Beirut in August, leavings hundreds of thousands of residents homeless and unemployed.
The Minister of the Interior in Cyprus, Nicos Nouris, told local news channel Alpha that an urgent meeting to assess the new wave of migration from Lebanon would be held today. Nouris cited concerns over the spread of coronavirus among the island population and added that the migrant reception centre was nearly full.