By MENELAOS HADJICOSTIS, Associated Press
NICOSIA, Cyprus (AP) – Cyprus returned 88 Syrian migrants to Lebanon on Monday after trying to reach the eastern Mediterranean island nation on two boats.
Interior Minister Nicos Nouris told The Associated Press that rescue teams continue to search for one of the five men who jumped overboard after police ships intercepted their boat off the coast of the east coast of Cyprus. Nouris said police recovered four men, but the fifth, who was wearing a mask, fins and life jacket, managed to swim away.
A pregnant woman and another sick man were airlifted to hospital.
Coastal radar had detected two ships approaching the Cypriot coast on Sunday evening. Marine Police vessels intercepted the boats – which carried a total of 48 men, 15 women and 25 minors – 15 kilometers (9 miles) from the coast.
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They were transferred on Monday to a chartered boat for the return to Lebanon under police escort.
Cyprus signed an agreement with Lebanon last year to take back anyone attempting to reach the island by boat.
Nouris said Cyprus has the right to protect its borders against such irregular migration despite criticism from human rights groups that the agreement violates international law as migrants do not have the opportunity to apply asylum.
More than 1,337 Syrians have arrived in Cyprus by sea since 2019. Many more migrants come from Turkey via the unrecognized separatist north of the ethnically divided island. The authorities claim that the number of migrants who have received or requested protection in Cyprus now represents 4% of the population.
Cyprus has asked the European Union’s border agency Frontex to stem the flow of migrant arrivals from countries such as Turkey, Syria and Lebanon.
Cyprus is located 170 kilometers (100 miles) west of Syria and 230 kilometers (140 miles) west of Lebanon.
Follow all of AP’s stories on global migration at https://apnews.com/hub/migration.
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