By George Psyllides
AUTHORITIES on Monday asked some 340 refugees rescued from a fishing trawler last week to put their requests in writing, separately for each one, after some appointed themselves leaders and spoke on behalf of everyone.
The camp where they are hosted, near Kokkinotrimithia, was visited by Interior Minister Socratis Hasikos who told them that those with a clean bill of health would be free to travel anywhere they wanted or apply for asylum in Cyprus.
“Some may wish to leave the camp, as is their right – they are not illegal immigrants,” Hasikos said. “Others may wish to apply for asylum – that is their prerogative, too. And some others may be able to afford to travel to wherever it is they want to travel. We will look at each case individually and act accordingly.”
An EU country however, could deny them entry and send them back to Cyprus.
The refugees had sailed from Syria and were headed to Italy when they found themselves in rough seas and put out a distress signal.
They initially refused to disembark the cruise ship that rescued them 50 nautical miles off the coast of Paphos on Thursday and insisted they be taken to Italy.
Many said they want to go to Sweden, Germany, Holland, and Denmark.
Hasikos told the refugees that they could put their individual requests in writing and made it clear that authorities will not hold talks with self-appointed leaders.
“We have asked each of them to let us know their wish in writing, and explained that we do not recognise leaders among them,” Hasikos said. “Each of them is a person and has the right to state his or her own wishes.”
If their requests were in line with the law and international agreements they will be satisfied but he made it clear that protests could not force the government to satisfy irrational requests.
Those applying for asylum in Cyprus will be transferred to a reception centre in Kofinou.
“It seems that very few will seek asylum, but let us wait for their wishes in writing first,” Hasikos said.
Among the refugees were 52 children, several unaccompanied.
Officials were not immediately able to provide more information about these children whose number is between six and nine.
Among those providing assistance was the Tamassos bishopric.
Bishop Isaias said they were mainly concentrating on the children, trying to create better living conditions for them, including classrooms.
“We are trying to make their living conditions in Cyprus pleasant, at least to keep the hope alive,” he said. “They are very disappointed, they feel betrayed and abandoned; they have sold everything, made a huge sacrifice to pay the cost of going to Italy.”
Four in the group, believed to be the trawler’s crew, have been remanded in custody for eights days while police were trying to get a lead on the individual who organised the perilous trip.