Turkish Cypriot human rights groups have urged a probe over reported gunshots by police at a migrant boat with Syrian refugees. Ethnically divided Cyprus, split by a demarcation line not recognized as a border, has become a popular destination for migrants in recent years.
On Friday, Turkish Cypriot human rights groups called for an investigation after police reportedly fired their weapons at a boat carrying 30 Syrian refugees. The vessel was heading toward ethnically split Cyprus' Turkish-administered north, the Associated Press (AP) reports.
The rights groups, which include Refugee Rights Turkey (MHD), said in a joint statement that an investigation should be launched to find out whether the shooting at the boat by police was justified. In the statement, the rights groups argued that those on board may not have understood police orders, AP writes.
According to the Turkish Cypriot interior ministry, the boat's captain and another passenger who suffered minor injuries didn't comply with a police order to stop from fleeing.
The refugees, who landed in the early hours Thursday near the town of Guzelyurt (Morphou in Greek) on the northern part of the island, included three women and seven minors.
According to the ministry, they have been taken to a reception center for health checks including coronavirus testing.
The eastern Mediterranean island of Cyprus has been divided between the internationally-recognized Republic of Cyprus (RoC), an EU member state since 2004, and the Turkish-administered northern side since Turkey invaded in 1974.Human trafficking charges?
It is hitherto unknown where the boat with the 30 Syrians set sail, AP writes. A Turkish Cypriot court ordered three people who face human trafficking charges to remain in police detention for three days.
Located around 160 kilometers (100 miles) from the Syrian coast and close to Lebanon and Turkey -- two major host countries of Syrian refugees --, the relative proximity to these countries is leading traffickers to offer this risky crossing to Syrians, who currently make up the largest group of refugees in Cyprus.
The Republic of Cyprus has one of the highest first-time asylum seekers per capita rates among all European Union member states (relative to the countries' population size).
In late May, the RoC announced it would be launching a "blitz" SMS campaign in order to try and deter migrants from coming to the country. Many have arrived thinking that Cyprus is a gateway to the rest of the EU. That is not the case, says the government.
The RoC accuses Turkey of channeling migrants from the breakaway Turkish-administered northern side of Cyprus to the southern part to purposely to change the composition of its population.
In February, Cyprus' interior minister Nicos Nouris told AP: "We maintain that there is a very specific purpose and aim, which is to alter the island's demographic character, and clearly we cannot continue to accept (migrants) in such numbers."
With material from AP