By Evie Andreou
ONLY 12 refugees, among the 115 who arrived at Akrotiri last week, have expressed interest so far to apply for asylum, reports said on Thursday.
“We don’t have the exact number yet, but it is around there,” the head of the Foreign ministry’s crisis management unit Omiros Mavromatis told the Cyprus Mail.
The refugees, who arrived on the Akrotiri shore on board two rafts last week, were on Tuesday moved to the second British base (SBA) on the island in Dhekelia.
According to reports in the media, so far only 12 of the 115 have expressed interest to submit asylum applications.
An SBA spokesman said that they can’t confirm the number, as it is an ongoing process.
Two men from the group, who were arrested last week on suspicion of people smuggling, were released on Thursday without being charged, the spokesman said.
Mavromatis said the exact number of applicants will be known after the state asylum services receive the information from the SBA to begin processing the requests.
Asked whether asylum seekers would be transferred to an establishment within the government controlled areas, he said the government offered to host asylum seekers but certain procedures had to be followed before that happens.
“We take things day by day as this kind of procedure takes time. The next steps are for us to take in the asylum seekers and to process their applications,” Mavromatis said.
The majority of the refugees said they are Palestinians, he added, and a small number, around ten, said they are Syrians.
He reiterated that there is constant communication and good cooperation between state services, the British High Commission in Nicosia and the SBA, and there are no disagreements as regards the provisions of the 2003 memorandum of understanding between Cyprus and the UK as to the handling of immigrants that enter the island through bases territory.
The extract from the agreement states: “Noting that the United Kingdom through the Sovereign Base Areas Administration has the responsibility for illegal migrants and asylum seekers that enter the island of Cyprus by the Sovereign Base Areas.”
Cyprus must grant asylum seekers arriving directly in the SBA free medical care, welfare benefits, the right to apply for a work permit and access to education. The UK “will indemnify the Republic of Cyprus for the net costs incurred.”
It adds that the United Kingdom, “through the SBAA [SBA administration], will endeavour to resettle persons recognised as refugees or granted any other form of international protection in countries willing to accept those persons, and not later than one year after the decision granting the relevant status has been taken.”
The migrants have been put up in lodgings outside the perimeter of the Dhekelia military base, which include facilities catering to vulnerable persons such as children.
The SBA said each family was given a tent with insulation, an electricity connection, and bedding, and they have access to hot and cold water, showers and toilet facilities. They are also being given daily two main meals, and beverages and snacks in between.
The UK government had said that it will not allow a new migrant route to open up to the UK through its bases and that it will continue to work closely with the Cypriot authorities.