Cypriot authorities intercepted two boats carrying 88 migrants off the island's coast and transferred them back to Lebanon.
Cyprus' coastal radar picked up two vessels approaching the Cypriot coastline on Sunday evening, August 22. Marine police vessels stopped the boats 15 kilometers from the coast. The migrants – 48 men, 15 women, and 25 minors – were sent back to Lebanon the next day except for one, reports the Associated Press (AP).
Interior Minister Nicos Nouris told AP that rescue crews continue to search for one of five men who jumped overboard after police vessels intercepted their boat off Cyprus' eastern coast. Nouris said police picked up four men, but the fifth, who was wearing a mask, flippers, and a life preserver, managed to swim away.
One man who was ill and a pregnant woman were airlifted to the hospital first.
The migrants were then transferred to a chartered boat on Monday for the trip back to Lebanon under police escort.
Cyprus signed an agreement with Lebanon last year to take back anyone trying to reach the island by boat. Human rights groups, including the Council of Europe (COE), have criticized the deal for violating international laws since it leaves migrants with little chance of applying for asylum.
Lebanon, in turn, has recently expelled some of the Syrian refugees pushed back by Cyprus.
Cyprus, an island nation in the Mediterranean Sea, lies 170 kilometers west of Syria and 230 kilometers west of Lebanon.
Nouris said Cyprus has a right to protect its borders from such irregular migration, according to AP.
Between 2002 and 2020, around 88,000 persons applied for asylum in the Republic of Cyprus, according to the UN refugee agency UNHCR.
More than 1,337 Syrians have reached Cyprus by sea since 2019, reports AP. More migrants cross over from the northern, Turkish Cypriot part of the island into the southern, Greek-administered part which is part of the European Union. Authorities say the number of migrants who have either received or have applied for protection in Cyprus now accounts for 4% of the population.
The government of Cyprus in March set out to build a barrier to prevent migrants and refugees from entering its territory. Later in April, the authorities asked the European Union's border agency Frontex to help stem the flow of migrant arrivals from countries including Turkey, Syria, and Lebanon.