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Five migrant boats pushed back to unknown location (Update 2)

evagoras
The Cypriot marine police boat is now off the coast of Lebanon

Five migrant boats attempting to reach Cyprus from Lebanon were pushed back to unknown destinations, it emerged on Wednesday.

The pushbacks drew controversy, as the treatment of the migrants on board by authorities was questioned by international NGO Amnesty and helpline Alarm Phone.

Alarm Phone, which offers a hotline for refugees in distress in the Mediterranean, posted on X a day earlier that there were two boats in a convoy on their way to Cyprus.

The helpline said that some of the migrants had contacted them and said they were threatened by the Cypriot authorities with guns and told to go back to Syria.

“One group called us, saying that they were approached by a ship of the police. According to them, they were threatened with guns and told to go back to Syria,” Alarm Phone said.

Amnesty also sounded the alarm over reports of coastguard pushbacks while children were sick on board.

However, a different picture was painted in the media reports, which said the migrants were also given food and blankets for their journey to unknown destinations.

Reports said that the Cypriot port police had given food and blankets to the migrants before they left.

The operation has been ongoing since Tuesday where five boats with around 500 migrants were in the waters between Cyprus and Lebanon.

Authorities remained tight-lipped over the operation however one Cypriot maritime police patrol vessel, the Evagoras, was seen on ship tracking websites in international waters off the coast of Tripoli in Lebanon.

“We have taken some other measures to avert arrivals, such as those announced which concern suspending assessment of new asylum applications,” said Interior Minister Constantinos Ioannou. He declined to comment specifically on the presence of the Cypriot vessel off Lebanon or its actions.

Defence ministry spokesman Andreas Stylianou told AlphaNewswe are implementing the measures which the government announced to deter illegal migration.” He did not elaborate.

However, Alarm Phone said: “They have no food and water left. There is no fuel left and they cannot continue their journey.”

They added: “These people are trapped in a cruel and dangerous game between Cyprus and Lebanon and remain at sea with no food or water and in urgent need of help!”

The Joint Rescue and Coordination Centre told the Cyprus Mail there was no operation in place at the moment to rescue any boats.

Police said it could not immediately comment on the situation, hinting at the latest “political decision” over migration.

“We are alarmed about reports of the dangerous conditions aboard two boats heading to Cyprus, carrying dozens of people, including children, at sea for days,” Amnesty EU said on Tuesday night.

“Several of those on board are sick, and they have now run out of food, water, and fuel.”

It called on Cyprus’ authorities to take immediate action and rescue the people at sea.

Watch The Med Alarm Phone was initiated in October 2014 by activist networks and civil society actors in Europe and Northern Africa. The project established a self-organised hotline for refugees in distress in the Mediterranean sea.

On Tuesday, police confirmed Cyprus would deploy coastguard patrol boats off the coast of Lebanon to intercept migrant boats.

On the same day, it said two vessels, Alasia and Theseus had already intercepted the first boats which were sent back to Lebanon, for which Cyprus notified the authorities about.

The developments follow a mutual understanding reached with Lebanon last week.

Over the weekend Cyprus announced that it would also suspend asylum seeker applications for Syrian nationals, over which experts have sounded the alarm.

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