Two dozen groups around the world have condemned authorities on both sides of divided Cyprus after 175 Syrian refugees were denied the right to seek asylum.
According to a joint statement posted on a Human Rights Watch website, 24 groups including a Cypriot NGO condemned Greek Cypriot authorities for violating non-refoulement rules and Turkish Cypriot authorities for sending back 175 Syrian refugees to Mersin, Turkey where “Syrians forcibly returned to Turkey face a risk of onward refoulement to Syria.”
The refugees had reached Cyprus in the south back in March, where Greek Cypriot coast guard officials in the Republic of Cyprus blocked a 50-foot wooden boat carrying 175 undocumented migrants, citing coronavirus fears.
After the refugees headed north along the eastern coast of Cyprus, their boat capsized and they were rescued by Turkish Cypriot officials and volunteers. Reports said 76 adult males, 30 adult women, and 69 children including girls were rescued while videos on social media showed the presumptive refugees in a local sports arena.
Many of the refugees were trying to join their families in the south but were instead housed in the north under public health concerns and continued to be detained after quarantine ended
The first 75 refugees were turned back in April while 100 others were, including mostly children and women and girls, were sent back in May.
According to the Human Rights Watch, many of the refugees were trying to join their families already settled in the south, but were instead housed in the north under public health concerns and continued to be detained after a two-week quarantine.
The statement called on the Turkish Cypriot administration as well the Turkish government to “respect the principle of non-refoulement and international human rights law, including the European Convention on Human Rights, by stopping the forced return of refugees and asylum seekers to Turkey and/or Syria.”
It also called on the government in the Republic of Cyprus to “abide by EU and international obligations to respect the right to seek asylum and the principle of non-refoulement, and provide assistance to boats in distress at sea by carrying out search and rescue operations.”
The groups also called on the south cooperate with the United Nations and authorities in the north in order to facilitate a process of asylum seekers to access territory in the south and apply for asylum as well as reunify with their families.
The Human Rights Watch also called on Greek Cypriots to “terminate the suspension of access to asylum by those arriving by sea to the territory of the Republic of Cyprus in response to the Covid-19 pandemic.”
The Republic of Cyprus is currently emerging from lockdown and plans to resume limited flights next month, while both sides of the divided island were said to have minimized public health risks during the COVID-19 pandemic.