Rescued Syrian refugees disembark in Cyprus after refusing to budge for hours

LIMASSOL – Hundreds of mostly Syrian refugees rescued by a cruise liner in the Mediterranean disembarked in Cyprus on Friday, after hours of refusing to budge and demanding to go to Italy.

A total of 345 migrants, mainly women and children, had been plucked from a boat in trouble off the coast of Cyprus on Thursday by the cruise ship.

Some 700 paying passengers disembarked from the 157-meter (515-foot) liner at the port of Limassol, police said, but only 65 of those rescued at sea initially left the ship on Thursday.

The others had refused to budge, the shipping company said. The situation was resolved shortly before dawn on Friday after police entered the vessel to talk to the remaining refugees, who finally agreed to leave, according to Marinos Papadopoulos, an Interior Ministry official. “Everything went calmly,” he said.

The refugees were to be taken by bus to a camp not far from Nicosia. There they would be able to shower, get clean clothes and rest, according to the Red Cross.

The cruise ship had answered a distress signal from a trawler sailing some 50 nautical miles off the Cyprus coast in poor weather conditions, the Cypriot Defense Ministry said.

The liner had been en route from the Greek island of Syros to Limassol when it received a call to assist in the rescue operation.

The Mediterranean has been plagued by shipwrecks in recent months involving migrants trying to reach Europe from Africa and the Middle East.

The UN High Commissioner for Refugees says more than 2,500 people have drowned or been reported lost at sea this year trying to cross the Mediterranean.

In one of the deadliest wrecks on record, a ship carrying some 500 migrants – including Syrians, Palestinians and Egyptians – was deliberately sunk by traffickers off Malta earlier this month, leaving just 10 known survivors.

Cyprus is located about 100 kilometres (62 miles) from the shores of war-ravaged Syria. [AFP]

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