Three overloaded boats carrying 140 refugees from Syria have washed up at Britain’s military base in Cyprus, potentially opening up a new front line in the migration crisis.
The refugees, believed to include women and children, have been transferred to a temporary reception area at the sovereign base at Akrotiri on southern coast of the Mediterranean island.
A spokesman for the Ministry of Defence confirmed that four boats had arrived at the base, which has been used to launch airstrikes against Islamic State militants in Iraq and Syria. The MoD is still gathering details about the incident, including the number of refugees involved.
“I believe it is more than a hundred, but there is no confirmation of the exact number at the moment,” the spokesman said. He said it was unclear where the refugees had travelled from but a police official told local media that refugees “appear” to have come from Syria.
He added: “At the moment the first priority is to make sure everyone is safe and well before decisions are taken on what’s going to happen to them. We don’t know full numbers. It is happening as we speak so details are still coming in.”
Asked whether the refugees would be able to claim asylum in Britain, the MoD official said: “That’s not our understanding.”
The base is one of two sovereign territories retained by Britain on Cyprus, a colony until 1960. Britain started using Akrotiri to bomb Islamic State targets in northern Iraq in September 2014.
Cyprus has received hundreds of refugees from Syria, but if confirmed this would be the first time any have arrived at the Akrotiri base, which is about 150 miles from the Syrian port of Tartus.
The news site In-Cyprus quoted George Kiteos, the head of police at the sovereign base area, as saying: “The number of persons has been counted and recorded. The boats were carrying over 100 persons.”
He added: “They have received first aid and they all appear to be in good health. We have already alerted all the other necessary services. They appear to have come from nearby Syria.”
The site said two small boats had been were spotted off the coast of Akrotiri at about 6.30am and were shepherded back to the shore by the Cyprus coastguard.