Four boats carrying 110 refugees arrive at base used to launch airstrikes against Islamic State militants in Iraq and Syria
Four overloaded boats carrying 110 refugees from Syria have landed at Britain’s military base in Cyprus, potentially opening up a new front line in the migration crisis.
The refugees, believed to include women and children, have been transferred to a temporary reception area at the sovereign base at Akrotiri on southern coast of the Mediterranean island.
“We can confirm that a number of boats with migrants on board have landed on the shore of RAF Akrotiri in Cyprus. At the moment our key priority is ensuring everybody on board is safe and well,” the UK Ministry of Defence (MoD) said in a statement.
“We have had an agreement in place with the Republic of Cyprus since 2003 to ensure that the Cypriot authorities take responsibility in circumstances like this,” the statement said.
Asked whether the refugees would be able to claim asylum in Britain, an MoD official said: “That’s not our understanding.”
George Kiteos, a police spokesman at the base, which has been used to launch airstrikes against Islamic State militants in Iraq and Syria, confirmed there were 110 refugees in total. “They arrived on the coast in the bit of the base that is closed off, were brought to shore and are currently in the process of being identified and screened,” he told the Guardian. “What happens to them next is up to the politicians to decide.”
Conny Pierce, a British spokeswoman at the base, told the Guardian that the refugees were currently being held in the base’s military zone.
A Cypriot government official said cooperation on the matter would be dictated by the memorandum of understanding that existed between the Republic of Cyprus and the British-run bases. “We are ready to help if requested … for the moment all the individuals are under the control of the bases. We have no involvement whatsoever,” said Olivia Michalidou, spokeswoman for the island’s civil defence department.
An MoD spokesman said it was unclear where the refugees had travelled from but a police official told local media that refugees “appeared” to have come from Syria.
He added: “At the moment the first priority is to make sure everyone is safe and well before decisions are taken on what’s going to happen to them.”
The base is one of two sovereign territories retained by Britain on Cyprus, a colony until 1960. Britain started using Akrotiri to bomb Isis targets in northern Iraq in September 2014.
Cyprus has received hundreds of refugees from Syria, but if confirmed this would be the first time any had arrived at the Akrotiri base, which is about 150 miles from the Syrian port of Tartus.
The news site In-Cyprus said two small boats had been were spotted off the coast of Akrotiri at about 6.30am and were shepherded back to the shore by the Cyprus coastguard.
The MoD statement said: “Events like this underline why it is important for us to develop a comprehensive approach to the migration crisis working with our international partners to provide humanitarian assistance in Syria and neighbouring countries; to disrupt the trafficking gangs and to address the root causes of instability that cause people to seek a new life elsewhere.”