The responsibility for the 114 refugees at the British Sovereign Base at Akrotiri is being disputed by the South Cyprus government.
According to a 2003 accord between Cyprus and the UK, “the Cypriot authorities take responsibility in circumstances like this”, the British Bases said, adding, “we are working positively and cooperatively with the republic of Cyprus authorities to manage the situation.”
However, according to an official in the South’s foreign ministry, the accord does not put Cyprus under any obligation to accept asylum seekers who arrive on British Bases’ territory, irrespective of whether or not their applications are accepted.
“For us it’s clear that responsibility lies with the British bases and the British government,” the official said on condition of anonymity.
He said the agreement states that (South) Cyprus must help British authorities screen, identify and house asylum seekers until their applications are examined, a process that could take weeks, if not months.
In addition, Britain must cover the costs of processing and housing asylum seekers according to the deal, the official said.
What is clear is that Britain “will endeavour to resettle people recognised as refugees in countries willing to accept them” within one year of their application’s approval, the official said.
This interpretation of the agreement was backed up by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), which in a statement said the 2003 UK-Cyprus memorandum made it clear that “asylum seekers arriving directly on to the SBA are the responsibility of the UK but they would be granted access to services in the republic at cost to the SBA.”
British authorities are concerned that its bases on the island could be used by traffickers as a back door to the UK for refugees fleeing war-torn Syria and other migrants.
The refugees, 28 children, 19 women and 67 men, were spotted by fishermen in the early morning hours of Wednesday The two boats were later located by the coastguard and they anchored at Lady’s Mile, at Cape Gata, which is located within the British Sovereign Base Areas (SBA). They spent the night at the Akrotiri base, where they were given food, clothing, and medical care.
The status of the refugees arriving at the British base was not known at that time.