‘Claim asylum in Cyprus or be deported,’ RAF tells stranded refugees

Refugees interact with each other at a temporary transit facility at the British sovereign base of Dhekelia in Cyprus, October 28, 2015. © Yiannis Kourtoglou
The UK has told 114 migrants camped out at its Royal Air Force (RAF) base in Cyprus they have seven days to claim asylum on the island – or face deportation. 

British officials handed the refugees official notice informing them of impending deportation on Sunday. The refugees have been given a week to explain why they should not be sent back to Beirut. Members of the group have threated a mass hunger strike at the prospect of forcible removal. 

“I will consider any representations made by you and will then decide whether to make a deportation order,” Philip Rushbrook, a senior official at Britain’s sovereign base areas in Cyprus, wrote in the document.

The group, a mix of Syrian, Palestinian and Lebanese refugees, came ashore on October 21 after crossing the Mediterranean from Lebanon. Last week, they protested against their continued internment in a barbed wire enclosure.

Another government spokesman said: “We have now formally notified the migrants who have not claimed asylum that we do intend to remove them.

“We have been clear with the migrants on the options open to them and they have also had advice from the UNHCR (the UN High Commissioner for Refugees). The UK government will not allow a new migrant route to open up to the UK.”

The UNHCR said last month that Britain must take responsibility for their resettlement.

“Asylum seekers arriving directly onto the SBA [Sovereign Base Area] are the responsibility of the UK, but they would be granted access to services in the [Cypriot] republic at the cost of the SBA,” the agency said.

The arrival of the refugees initially caused a row between UK and Cypriot authorities over whose jurisdiction the newcomers fell under. Cyprus has since agreed to process the group’s asylum applications in accordance with a 2003 agreement between the two nations.

READ MORE: Cyprus agrees to process 114 Syrian refugees who landed at UK military base

The refugees had been heading for Greece but washed ashore at RAF Akrotiri, the larger of two remaining British military bases on the island. Cyprus was a British colony until 1960.