A video showing a Republic of Cyprus coast guard vessel pursuing a boat of undocumented migrants has emerged, with police saying they blocked the boat due to the coronavirus crisis.
According to police, a rubber dinghy with an outboard motor carrying some 35 passengers was detected last Thursday, approximately 30 nautical miles from the northwestern tip of the island at Cape Arnaoutis.
The incident took place in the morning around 10am when radars of the Republic of Cyprus picked up a vessel about 8 to 10 metres long moving with high speed towards Akamas shores.
Police released the video on Tuesday, saying calls to the boat went unanswered and a marine police vessel was dispatched in the area. According to an official statement, coast guard officials located the small boat around 1:10pm some 12.5 nautical miles from Cape Arnaoutis.
“After it was explained to them that entry to the Republic of Cyprus was not allowed due to coronavirus measures, the boat set course for Morphou Bay,” police said in a statement.
The coast guard vessel continued to pursue the boat until they reached a maritime boundary. The line is understood to be extrapolated from divided Cyprus’ “Green Line” where it extends from Kato Pyrgos in Tilliria region out in the water.
Back in March, Greek Cypriot coast guard officials in the south blocked another boat carrying 175 undocumented migrants from entering territorial waters, with reports saying officers had been given orders to deny entry citing the coronavirus pandemic.
Reports said Republic of Cyprus officers attempted to offer water, food, and fuel to the Syrian refugees on the condition they would depart from the area and head back to their port of origin.
But the refugees, including women and children who said they wanted to reunite with family members in the south, turned down the offer and headed north, where they were picked up by Turkish Cypriot authorities and later sent to Turkey.
Human rights groups cry foul
Two dozen human rights groups criticized the south for not abiding by international and EU non-refoulement agreements while also calling on the north to observe and respect the principle.
Regarding last week’s incident, Greek Cypriot police said the marine vessel Poseidon was dispatched to the area in order to “seek out and inspect a suspect target” while adding that the subsequent pursuit took place in order to ensure the safety of the passengers of the small boat.
Earlier this year, Interior Minister Nikos Nouris accused Ankara of being actively involved in attempts to alter the demographic composition of the island of Cyprus, saying Turkey was pushing “economic migrants” to the south.
Nouris has been criticized for taking a tough stance on migration, including a recent decision to detain asylum seekers at a camp facility while their applications are either pending or in the process to be filed.
Current regulations prevent the minister from lawfully detaining asylum seekers, but residents at the Pournara camp in rural Nicosia remain in lockdown after the facility was declared "local infected area" recently.