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Cyprus rescues 60 Syria migrants from boat, children found unconscious

January 24, 2024 at 4:22 pm

A migrant covered with a blanket stands on a beach near Skala Sykamineas after crossing the Aegean sea between Turkey and Greece on 1 March 2020 [ARIS MESSINIS/AFP/Getty Images]

Sixty Syrian migrants were rescued from a small boat off Cyprus on Wednesday after being stranded at sea for days, including three children and a man who were found unconscious on board, Cypriot authorities said, Reuters reports.

Authorities scrambled rescue helicopters and patrol vessels after a merchant vessel reported seeing a small wooden fishing boat about 30 nautical miles off Cape Greco, Cyprus’ most south-easterly point.

Cyprus’s Joint Rescue Coordination Centre said all the migrants were taken to hospital, including the four found unconscious and three who had lower limb fractures. They were all dehydrated, officials said.

Officials said the occupants of the boat, all Syrians, had sailed from Lebanon on 18 January.

Cypriot officials said the incident highlighted the unnecessary risks people took with smuggling networks, and said it would raise the issue again at an informal EU meeting of justice and home affairs ministers this week.

Alarm Phone, an advocacy group which issues alerts for migrants in distress, had reported on Sunday that concerned relatives had contacted them on losing contact with a vessel carrying between 50-60 people and which had left Lebanon on 18 January.

Cyprus lies about 100 miles (185 km) west of Lebanon and Syria. In recent months, it has seen arrivals increase from both countries, fanning concerns in Nicosia of a surge of migration if the tensions in the Middle East engulf the broader region.

“This is, unfortunately, proof of what we have repeatedly said on the dangers faced by people falling victim to traffickers,” Interior Minister, Constantinos Ioannou, said in a statement.

He said he would reiterate to his EU counterparts Cyprus’s position that the bloc should consider declaring parts of Syria safe, which would allow authorities to repatriate people arriving from there.

In calm seas, it can take a small fishing boat 18-20 hours to get from Lebanon to Cyprus, crossing waters that can run up to 3 km deep and in conditions known for changeable winds and sudden swells.

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