Cyprus rescues 60 Syrian migrants from rickety boat after 6 days at sea

Syrian Migrants

Cypriot police rescued 60 Syrian migrants from a rickety wooden boat that had been at sea for six days, and five minors had to be hospitalized, three of them in intensive care, authorities said Wednesday.

The migrants were found some 55 kilometres (34 miles) off the island nation‘s southeastern tip and appeared to have run short of food and water, officials said.

Police and army helicopters initially flew three children and an adult to a hospital after a passing merchant ship notified Cypriot authorities of the boat’s presence off the island’s coast in pre-dawn hours.

Health Services spokesman Charalambos Charilaou told The Associated Press that three minors were in critical condition, and two were listed as serious. The adult who was flown to a hospital was treated for hypothermia and released.

Cyprus has seen a major upswing in Syrian migrants and recently rescued a boat that had been at sea for six days.

Three other adults who had broken bones were treated by officers aboard a patrol vessel that intercepted the migrant boat, police said.

The boat was towed to the harbour, and the remaining migrants received medical care.

Authorities said the boat had set sail from Lebanon on Jan. 18.

A Lebanese lawyer who follows migrant issues in his country said the boat had gone missing since its departure until it reached Cyprus. He said the migrants were in bad shape because they hadn’t eaten for days.

Lebanon’s coast is about 168 kilometres (105 miles) from Cyprus.

Cyprus President Nikos Christodoulides thanked authorities for their quick response in rescuing the migrants. But he said the Lebanese government needs to take action to curb these departures “because we know that these are Syrians who come here from Lebanon.”

Although overall migrant arrivals to Cyprus have significantly decreased, arrivals by sea almost quadrupled from 937 in 2022 to 3,889 in 2023, with almost all migrants being Syrian, according to official interior ministry numbers.

In a written statement, Cypriot Interior Minister Constantinos Ioannou said the boat’s arrival was “unfortunate proof” of how people-smuggling rings are endangering lives by forcing migrants to make the journey aboard unsuitable craft.

Ioannou said it’s for this reason that he had told European Union Home Affairs Commissioner Ylva Johansson during her recent visit to Cyprus about the urgent need for the EU to put together a unit composed of Europol members, Lebanese officials and Cypriot police to patrol Lebanon’s borders.

He said he would again suggest the EU re-evaluate the safety of certain areas inside Syria to enable the repatriation of Syrian migrants when he meets with fellow EU interior ministers in Brussels on Thursday.

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