Cyprus Mail

Rescued migrants plead to reunite with their families

Father from Syria paid €6,000 for trip to Italy

By George Psyllides

ALL 345 migrants rescued from a stranded fishing trawler off the coast of Paphos two days ago were transferred to a holding centre in Kokkinotrimithia yesterday where they will have to spend the next days or weeks until their fate can be decided.

The migrants, exhausted from their ordeal, were provided with food and shelter and were undergoing medical tests.

Two children were taken to Makarios hospital in Nicosia for treatment. One had fever, reports said, while the other, suffering from thalassemia, urgently needed a blood transfusion.

They were among 52 children who were part of the group together with 93 women and 200 men rescued by a cruise ship after the trawler sent out a distress message early on Thursday.

Authorities said some of the children in the group were unaccompanied.

The UNHCR, the United Nation’s refugee agency, commended the authorities and the Salamis cruise company for the successful operation under difficult conditions.

Four doctors and ten nurses have been posted to the quickly set up centre. Blood samples will be collected and tested for communicable diseases in line with international rules.

Health minister Phillipos Patsalis said the migrants will also be vaccinated against polio because there has been an outbreak in Syria.

The migrants were housed in tents and prefabricated dwellings.


Reports said police were questioning four people, three adults and one minor, believed to be the captain and crew of the stricken vessel.

The refugees sailed from Latakia port in Syria a week ago, crammed on a small, unseaworthy fishing boat with the promise of being taken to Italy.

Among them was a Palestinian man, around 35.

“I left my wife and children, 10 and 11, to go to Europe and provide them a better future,” he told reporters at the camp.

He claimed he sold everything he had to raise the €6,000 needed to pay for the trip.

The man said he wanted to go to Holland or Sweden to find a job, but now all he wanted was to reunite with his family.

Makis Polydorou, the head of the asylum service, said any requests will be examined and if justified protection would be granted.

Those wanting to go to Italy have been told that since they were rescued by Cyprus the applications had to be processed by Cypriot authorities.

“We also explained that if they go to Italy they will be turned back because their first EU stop was Cyprus,” Polydorou said.

Some claimed they had family in Italy and Polydorou said authorities will try to reunite them, though it would not be an easy task.

A woman, also Palestinian, said she left Syria because of the fighting.

“We have nothing left,” she said, speaking through an interpreter. Whatever she had she gave to those who promised to take them to Italy.

The woman said she wanted to go to Sweden to find her 27-year-old daughter and her son, 26. She has not seen her husband in 13 years and she did not know if he was even alive.

She said she was grateful to Cyprus and that she felt safe “but I want to go find my children.”

The Salamis Filoxenia docked in Limassol at around 8.30pm on Thursday but the migrants at first refused to disembark, demanding to be taken to their initial destination, Italy.

Police negotiated with them for hours but in the end they were forced to call in the counter terrorism unit to help remove them from the ship.

The delay forced the cancellation of a cruise, costing the company thousands of euros and inconveniencing around 300 holidaymakers.

UNHCR estimates that more than 2,500 asylum seekers have perished or gone missing trying to cross the Mediterranean this year alone, including over 2,200 since the start of June.

The number of persons arriving by sea to Europe has continued to increase this year, including many fleeing conflict and violence.

The challenges posed by the increasing arrivals cannot be addressed by a few states alone. A joint European response is needed, based on collaboration among states and EU support to ensure additional initial reception facilities, assistance in processing applications as well as identifying long-term solutions for those in need of international protection, UNHCR said.

Despite the growing number of people arriving by sea and in need of international protection, it is important to highlight that 86 per cent of refugees remain in developing countries.

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