Migrant disturbances at British base on Cyprus

Migrant disturbances at British base on Cyprus

British military authorities confirmed Tuesday there had been disturbances at a base in Cyprus where 114 migrants from the Middle East are being kept after coming ashore last month.

"We are aware of a few incidents but we will not go into specific details," British Forces Cyprus spokesperson Sean Tully told AFP.

However, he did say a fire had set two tents ablaze Monday and that the fire services put it out.

Tully was responding to a videos posted on the website of Britain’s Guardian newspaper showing migrants protesting and complaining about "being treated like animals".

He said the mostly Syrians, Palestinians and Lebanese were frustrated, as they were unsure about their future, but he insisted they were being well looked after.

"There is a perception that things are not moving as fast as they want them to happen."

The 28 children, 19 women and 67 men landed at the Akrotiri RAF base in two fishing boats on October 21. They were moved to the Dhekelia garrison last week Tully said a "handful" have asked for asylum in Cyprus and those claims will be processed by the Cypriot authorities.

But the future of the rest remains in limbo.

"Those who don’t claim asylum may be repatriated; the SBA (Sovereign Base Area) will be responsible for this," said Tully.

But the British military are adamant that their bases on Cyprus are "not a back door to the UK. This will not happen."

The British defence ministry has said the migrants should be handed over to Cyprus in line with a 2003 agreement for them to "take responsibility in circumstances like this".

Before that deal was signed, migrants landing on the bases had been left in legal limbo.

In 1998, a ramshackle fishing boat crammed with 75 migrants landed at Akrotiri, which lies in one of two base areas over which Britain retained sovereignty when Cyprus won independence in 1960.

Seventeen years on, some of them are still living on Dhekelia base, after repeated appeals for asylum in Britain were turned down. [AFP]

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