Dozens of refugees who were on board a vessel spotted off Cyprus on Sunday returned to their point of departure in Lebanon, contradicting earlier reports that the boat had been escorted to Cape Greco.
According to local media, a boat carrying 56 undocumented migrants and presumptive asylum seekers was spotted Sunday afternoon some 16 nautical miles off Cape Greco in eastern Cyprus.
Reports said the vessel was carrying 39 adult males, 7 adult females, and 10 children, who told coast guard officials they departed from the Lebanese coastal town of Tripoli.
Initial reports on Sunday said coast guard officials had approached the vessel along with translators and escorted the boat to a fishing pier
Preliminary reports on Sunday said coast guard officials approached the vessel along with translators and escorted the boat to a fishing pier.
But it later emerged that passengers were never allowed to reach land, with the Cyprus News Agency confirming on Monday that they were refused entry and were ordered back to Lebanon.
Officials have not disclosed the identity or nationality of the passengers.
Last summer, Nicosia sent a team to Beirut to help authorities stop refugees in the neighboring country from fleeing, after Cyprus said it could not host more refugees due to overcrowding.
The move came after harsh criticism and media attention to pushbacks at sea by the Cypriot coast guard, with the UN refugee agency in Cyprus reiterating to Nicosia that “any person on a boat who seeks asylum should be admitted at least on a temporary basis to examine the claim.”
EU human rights commissioner Dunja Mijatovic also criticized the island over pushbacks, saying “boats carrying migrants, including persons who may be in need of international protection, have been prevented from disembarking in Cyprus, and summarily returned, sometimes violently.”
The Republic of Cyprus has rejected the accusations, saying no violence had taken place at sea. Interior ministry officials further noted that passengers were being offered food and fuel if they agreed to turn their boats back.