Cyprus pushes Syrian refugees back at sea due to coronavirus

Almost 200 Syrian asylum applicants are stranded in northern Cyprus after they were pressed back in the middle of the sea by authorities in the government-controlled south.

Quarantined and under hazard of deportation, they have actually ended up being the most recent victims of an increasing border shutdown as countries face the advance of coronavirus.

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On Friday, March 20, numerous Greek Cypriot patrol vessels approached a greatly overcrowded boat numerous miles of the coast of Cape Greco.

An authorities translator with a loudspeaker notified the travelers in Arabic that they might not get in Cyprus and would have to turnback The craft was holding 175 people consisting of 69 children.

According to authorities in northern Cyprus, all are Syrian.

Al Jazeera spoke to 3 Syrians who were on board. Their names are being kept to not welcome reprisals by authorities.

One mom in her twenties from Aleppo stated:   “It was very crowded, the waves were high and the boat was moving a lot. I held my children tight. The police said you cannot enter because of the coronavirus, we said we were joining our husbands and families and if you are scared about coronavirus you can put us in a camp alone or quarantine. But they refused and then the boats started to circle.”

On March 15, Cyprus shut its borders to all other than Cypriots, European employees and those with unique authorizations for a duration of 2 weeks.

Since Sunday, the nation had actually tape-recorded 214 validated cases and 6 have actually passed away. 

In a declaration offered to Al Jazeera, Cypriot cops representative Christos Andreou stated:   “The police acted on the ministerial decrees concerning the prohibition of entry … to protect against the distribution of coronavirus. The police made it clear that they will not allow anyone including immigrants to enter in violation of these decrees.”

A guy from Idlib informed Al Jazeera: ” A larger boat followed an hour with a cannon and weapons on top. They had personnel with weapons on board who stated, ‘If you desire water, fuel and food we will provide it to you however entry to Cyprus is not permitted’.

“We asked even for them just to take the women and children. They threw us a small bottle of diesel and drove behind us for an hour and we continued to the Turkish side. A storm came and waves started to hit the boat.”

After a standoff of numerous hours the boat, that had actually started its journey in Mersin in southern Turkey, reversed and ultimately upturned near the coast of northern Cyprus.

Regional authorities saved the travelers from the coastline, and they are now being housed in apartment or condos. 

The Mediterranean island has actually been divided considering that 1974 when Turkey got into the north following a Greek-backed military coup by forces looking for to merge the nation with Athens.

Although Cyprus is an EU member, the self-declared Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (TRNC) is acknowledged just by Turkey and the areas are separated by a 120- mile long UN-monitored buffer zone which cuts through the country’s capital, Nicosia.

Gulfem Verizoglu-Sevgili of the TRNC ministry of foreign affairs informed Al Jazeera in a declaration: “In the early hours of March 21, a rescue mission took place off the eastern coast of TRNC by the Karpaz Peninsula. The refugees were primarily taken to a sports hall where they underwent medical examinations and were provided with clothes and food. They have now been moved into flats.”

Generally we would be able to conduct interviews however since of the curfew we are not permitted to do anything, and we do not how they are being dealt with.

Fezile Osum from Refugee Rights Association, an NGO based in northern Cyprus

The refugees got a warm reception by Turkish Cypriot authorities, however their fate is regional and unpredictable NGOs state they have actually been rejected gain access to to the apartment or condos.

A partial curfew remains in location with motion mostly limited to vital companies.

Fezile Osum from Refugee Rights Association, an NGO based in northern Cyprus, informed Al Jazeera: “The situation is complicated because the south closed their asylum system and here we don’t have one. Normally we would be able to conduct interviews but because of the curfew we are not allowed to do anything, and we don’t how they are being treated.”

All crossing points that link the Turkish and greek Cypriot areas are currently closed.

A guy from Aleppo residing in the Republic of Cyprus informed Al Jazeera that his other half and children were amongst those stranded in the north. They are dealt with well, he stated, however do not have details.

“Nobody is telling them anything. They should at least let us be together. If we knew about the border closures, they wouldn’t have come,” he stated.

UNHCR spokesperson Emilia Strovolidou validated that deportation orders had actually been provided by the TRNC, however Turkey had actually declined the demand.

“Authorities in the north have placed them in 14-day quarantine in apartments and afterwards they will try again to deport them to Turkey.”

Andrew Gardner, Amnesty International’s senior scientist on Turkey, informed Al Jazeera he was worried by cases of refoulement from Turkey to Syria.

“Turkey has punished misdemeanour offences by arbitrarily sending people back to Syria, either those living there for a while or potentially those deported back from Northern Cyprus. There is definitely a problem with independent oversight of returns and people in detention.”

Osum, of Refugee Rights Association, thinks a harmful precedent has actually been set.

“I am afraid that Cyprus will continue to push back people and we will have more arrivals or even deaths in the sea.”

‘ Incredibly saddened’

UNHCR chief Filippo Grandi just recently stated that while daily life for lots of has actually stopped, “war persecution have not.”

He encouraged that screening and quarantine plans can be put in location “to enable authorities to manage the arrival of asylum seekers and refugees in a safe manner, while respecting international refugee protection standards designed to save lives.”

Regardless of being fairly unblemished throughout the height of Europe’s refugee crisis in 2015-2016, Cyprus is now the leading recipient of first- time asylum applicants in the EU per capita signing up 12,695 in 2019, the bulkSyrian

Even pre-coronavirus the Cypriot federal government has actually taken a significantly strident tone versus irregular migration, pr opagating the concept that refugees and migrants crossing over the permeable buffer zone from north to south have actually been motivated or sent out by Ankara as a managed effort to modify the nation’s demographics. 

Aside from the pandemic, the Cypriot asylum system might trigger yet more treacherous boat journeys.

Corina Drousiotou from the Cyprus Refugee Council informed Al Jazeera that nearly all Syrians in Cyprus get subsidiary defense status, which does not permit them to bring over family members lawfully. 

“We are extremely saddened by the pushback as until now the Cypriot authorities had taken every step to ensure refugees arriving on boats were able to reach our shores safely. We are contacted every day by devastated fathers desperate to be reunited with their families.”

The female from Aleppo who was on board the boat, stated: “We didn’t go to Cyprus as tourists. We went to become refugees there.”

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