Britain has given dozens of Syrian, Palestinian and Lebanese migrants camped at its military base on Cyprus seven days to claim asylum in the country or face deportation to Lebanon, a government spokesman said on Monday.
Two fishing boats carrying 115 people came ashore at a British Royal Air Force (RAF) base on Cyprus three weeks ago, the first time in the migrant crisis that refugees have landed directly on British sovereign soil.
Although the migrants arrived on what is considered British territory, officials said an agreement was in place with Cyprus, which would assume responsibility for them.
On Sunday the migrants received letters from the British authorities saying they would be deported unless they could provide a reason for not being sent back to Lebanon.
“It's not a surprise. It's what we've been saying all along ever since they arrived,” a government spokesman told the Thomson Reuters Foundation. “We've made it clear that there were two options – either they claim asylum in Cyprus or we take them back to where they came from.”
He said 38 migrants had already applied for asylum in Cyprus and unless the others contest the notification letter, they would be sent back to Lebanon, where they started their journey. No date has yet been set for the deportations to start, he added.
The migrants – among them women and children – were living in tents at the base, he said.
RAF Akrotiri is one of two sovereign territories retained by Britain on Cyprus, a British colony until 1960.Despite its proximity to Syria, where war has raged for nearly five years, Cyprus has seen little of the influx of refugees received by nearby Greece, where arrivals have topped 500,000 this year. Refugees have avoided the island because of its relative geographical isolation, which makes it difficult to travel on to other parts of Europe.