Cyprus officials concerned over arrival of four migrant boats in 48 hours

Cypriot authorities have expressed alarm over the arrival of four boats carrying Syrian and Lebanese migrants in waters off the east Mediterranean island nation’s coastline within a 48-hour span.

Cyprus police said on Sunday that four vessels appeared off Cyprus’ eastern and southern coast over the last two days carrying a total of 123 people, and about half of them have been permitted to disembark.

Some 21 people remain aboard a boat that is adrift off Cyprus’ southeastern tip as a result of a faulty engine. Police said three women and nine children had earlier been taken off the boat and transferred to a Cypriot hospital as a precaution.

Some 33 migrants aboard a boat that police intercepted 14 miles (22.5km) off the southern coast on Saturday afternoon have boarded another vessel that Cypriot authorities have chartered to be taken back to Lebanon.

European Union member Cyprus and Lebanon have an agreement to curb the arrival of boats carrying migrants from reaching the island.

On Friday, police encountered a small craft sailing off the coastal town of Larnaca with five migrants aboard. The boat continued to sail on in an undetermined direction.

Meanwhile, 51 people were taken to a reception centre after their boat from Lebanon reached a rocky beach on Saturday along the island’s eastern coastline,  inside a UN controlled buffer zone separating the ethnically split island’s breakaway Turkish Cypriot north from the internationally recognised Greek Cypriot south.

UN peacekeepers transferred the 35 men, five women and 11 children to Cypriot custody. A court on Sunday ordered that four men remain in custody over suspicion they were the boat’s crew.

Police said another 20 Syrian migrants — 19 men, a woman and a child — were taken to a reception centre after being picked up Sunday morning near the buffer zone 10 miles (16km) west of the capital Nicosia.

Cyprus’ Interior Minister Nicos Nouris told private news channel Alpha that an urgent meeting would be convened on Monday to assess the unfolding situation. He said Cyprus’ migrant reception centre is reaching its limits amid concerns over sticking to health protocols to prevent the spread of Covid-19.

On Friday, Nouris hailed lawmakers’ approval of a constitutional amendment shortening the amount of time migrants have to appeal rejected asylum applications from 75 to 15 days. He said the measure is a key first step in helping to clear the huge backlog of asylum cases.

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