220 Syrian migrants rescued off northern Cyprus

220 Syrian migrants rescued off northern Cyprus
Photo shows Syrian refugees living in Greece taking part in a protest calling the authorities to grant them immediate asylum status and housing.

NICOSIA - Some 220 Syrian migrants crammed onto a fishing boat were rescued off the northern coast of Cyprus on Sunday as the vessel hit rough seas in the Mediterranean, authorities said.

Turkish Cypriot authorities were able to rescue the passengers, who were aboard a Tanzanian fishing boat with a number of children among them, after an operation lasting several hours in bad weather and rough seas, local police said in a statement.

The boat had signalled for help some 300 metres (yards) off the coast near the town of Kyrenia in the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus, which is recognised only by Turkey.

The passengers were transferred to another vessel and later transported to a gymnasium in Kyrenia.

The statement said 13 of the migrants were hospitalised but that their lives were not in danger.

According to the UN refugee agency, more than 2,500 people have drowned or disappeared so far in 2014 while attempting to cross the Mediterranean.

On September 10, some 500 people died when their boat was intentionally capsized off Malta in the deadliest such recent incident. Many of the migrants were Syrian, Palestinian, Egyptian and Sudanese.

More than half of Syria's population has been forced to flee their homes since war began in their country in March 2011.

Some 3.2 million have fled beyond the country's borders, and more than 7.2 million have become internally displaced, according to the United Nations.

EU member Cyprus lies about 100 kilometres (60 miles) off the coast of Syria, but has not seen a major influx of refugees as migrants prefer to bypass the island to reach larger European nations.

In late September, some 345 Syrian migrants were similarly rescued when the trawler they were travelling in hit rough seas off the southern coast of Cyprus.

The migrants initially refused to disembark on the island, demanding instead to be allowed to go to Italy. Many are now living in a temporary camp west of the capital Nicosia.

The island has been divided since Turkish troops invaded and occupied its northern third in 1974 in response to an Athens-engineered coup aimed at uniting it with Greece.

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