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Cyprus rescues migrants from boat sinking in Mediterranean

By AFP   |   04 November 2015   |   5:55 pm  

migrants boat sinkThe Cyprus coastguard rescued 26 people overnight, mostly women and children believed to be Syrian migrants, from a boat sinking in the Mediterranean, officials said Wednesday.

Passengers said the eight-metre (26-foot) pleasure craft had set off for Greece Friday from Tripoli, Lebanon, and ran out of fuel the following day.

They then drifted until the vessel ran into heavy seas off the island’s southeast coast, officials said.

One of the men on board, later arrested as one of three suspected people smugglers, telephoned a contact in Cyprus to alert the authorities that the boat was in distress, passengers said.

The boat was already going down when the rescue began, and some of those saved had to be plucked from the water by the helicopters and boats involved in the operation.

The youngest among them was just five months old, while several were hospitalised for treatment, including a young child suffering from hypothermia and dehydration.

The group consisted of nine men, four women and 13 children.

The arrests took place after passengers claimed they had paid $2,000 (1,835 euros) a head for adults and $1,000 for children for passage.

State radio said two were Syrian and the third Lebanese.

Police said they had been remanded in custody for eight days on suspicion of people trafficking and aiding people to enter the country illegally.

State radio said most of the migrants are from government-controlled Tartus on the Mediterranean, which is one of the safer areas of Syria.

They had travel documents and were believed to have been seeking a better life in Europe.

The rescue took place not far from the Dhekelia British army garrison, where 114 migrants are being housed after landing on the beach last month at the Akrotiri British airbase down the coast.

Both Dhekelia and Akrotiri, from which Britain carries out strikes against the Islamic State group in Iraq, are British sovereign territory and the fate of the 114 remains unclear.

British and Cypriot officials are still in talks over what should happen to them, some of whom have claimed asylum on British soil.

EU member Cyprus lies just 100 kilometres (60 miles) off the Syrian coast but has so far avoided a mass influx of refugees from that country’s conflict like that passing through the Balkans to Austria, Germany and other countries.

In September, 115 refugees, including 54 women and children, were rescued from a small fishing boat that ran into trouble off the south coast.

The UN refugee agency says more than 2,500 people have died trying to cross the Mediterranean this year, many of them Syrian refugees.



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