By Nathan Morley
A GROUP of migrants have made disturbing allegations of maltreatment inside a temporary facility at the British base in Dhekelia, whilst also calling on British Prime Minister David Cameron to let them travel to the UK.
The latest claims come just days after a series of incidents, including an attempted suicide and the burning of a tent on the site. Most of the 114 people being held were rescued from two overcrowded boats near Akrotiri two weeks ago.
Those on board, mostly Syrians, Palestinians and Lebanese, ran into difficulties as they attempted to navigate the Mediterranean to Greece.
Now, after a week penned-in at the makeshift compound, they are demanding to be moved on to the United Kingdom.
Instead, 14 were handed over to Cyprus authorities on Tuesday afternoon, and the rest were advised that their options are to either claim asylum or deportation.
“A number of those moved claimed asylum, and the rest were deemed vulnerable – women and children,” said bases spokesman Sean Tully.
Speaking to the Cyprus Mail through the wire fence, detainees spoke of dire conditions at the tent city, which is located in open scrub land across the road from the British bases’ court in Dhekelia.
Bases’ police attempted to keep the Cyprus Mail away from the perimeter fence, but eventually stood back as men, women and children scrambled to the barrier waving and shouting.
“We are in a prison – there is a fence all around us. As you can see the police are everywhere,” screamed Ibrahim Maarour, a 37-year-old English teacher, who alleged they do not have access to adequate medical care.
Surrounded by about thirty men, women and children, some with their hands raised against the chain fence, Ibrahim said: “We are seeking humanity; we want to be treated like humans.”
“None of us is a terrorist. If we want medicine we can’t have it. Water is the universal medicine now.”
The newly constructed fence topped with barbed wire is kept under heavy surveillance – with 24-hour guard dog patrols, and officers located in police vehicles at several points around the perimeter.
Ironically, the facility is located just a stone’s throw from where a British detention camp once held hundreds of Jews caught attempting to enter Palestine in 1946.
As police looked on from just yards away, members of the group claimed that a pregnant woman had been ‘hit in the tummy’ yesterday by guards, whilst adding that they had been denied access to lawyers and accused the bases of deliberately keeping the media away.
Yian, 43, said he had been fleeing from the conflict in Syria, and had hoped to have started a new life in Europe. He says he would never have attempted the journey if he had known what lay in store.
Ibrahim dismissed press claims that their boats deliberately navigated to the Akrotiri shore, saying it was never their intention to open a ‘short cut to England’.
“We were going to Greece; we didn’t know where we are. At first we saw a fisherman standing on the rocks – the first question we asked him was ‘where are we’?”
“They have put us here without any information about our future. They are pushing us so hard so that we will ask for asylum.”
Now, after weeks in limbo, Ibrahim says everyone is seeking answers. On Saturday, unknown members of the group set some of the tents on fire, the video was posted on the social media app ‘whats-up’ and widely circulated in the British media.
Asked what the majority of those in the camp wanted, Ibrahim said: “We want to go to Britain, we asked for this. We said we are on an English base, so why you don’t take us to England?”
In an emotional message to British Prime Minister David Cameron, he added: “We are in his hands. If he is a real human and cares for humanity – we are human as well. But he is making a lesson of us so other people don’t come. He is afraid if we come to the UK, other people will try the same thing.”
Speaking to the Cyprus Mail outside the camp, press spokesman Kristian Grey, read a pre-prepared statement, saying that the Ministry of Defence confirmed there had been “a series of incidents at the temporary accommodation facility in Cyprus. Those staying there have access to three meals a day, shelter, privacy and communications, which United Nations staff have visited and say exceeds the standard of comparable set-ups.”
“The UK government will not allow a new migrant route to open up to the UK,” Grey added.
The arrival of the refugees sparked a debate as to whose responsibility it was to take them in – the UK or Cyprus. The British ministry of defence rushed to issue an announcement a few hours after the refugees’ arrival, that it was Cyprus’ responsibility as part of a 2003 bilateral agreement on cases where refugees enter the island through British bases territory.
But the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), followed by Cyprus government officials, said that the agreement stipulates that the refugees are in fact Britain’s responsibility but that they would be granted access to services in the republic at cost to the British govenrment.
Omiros Mavrommatis, head of the foreign ministry’s crisis management centre was previously quoted as saying “The intention of Cyprus, even though it is not an obligation, is to house the asylum seekers.”