EuroMed Rights, KISA, Access Centre for Human Rights, the Lebanese Centre for Human Rights and 12 other partner organisations call on the Republic of Cyprus to immediately end the practice of pushbacks, to facilitate family reunification procedures and increases legal pathways and humanitarian corridors through the use of humanitarian visas. We also call on the Lebanese authorities to immediately halt all deportations of refugees to Syria. We also call upon the European Union to investigate the misconducts perpetrated by Cypriot police and border forces.
Another tragic story in the East Mediterranean
On 22 August 2021, a boat left Lebanon for Cyprus with 69 refugees on board. The Access Centre for Human Rights and KISA interviewed witnesses and it is their testimony which this press statement relies upon. According to these witnesses, Cypriot coast guards forcefully stopped the boat by throwing an item on its engine and for several hours denied food and water to refugees – including a man with serious health problems, children and a pregnant woman close to her due date.
After the destruction of the boat’s engine, several refugees jumped into the sea to swim towards the Cypriot shore. Two of them tried for several hours to avoid the police speedboats that were trying to force them to return back to the boat. One of them was lost at sea and to this day is still missing.
After the Cypriot coast guards pulled the immobilised boat far away from the coast, they transferred the pregnant woman to a police boat and she was taken to hospital. The police refused to take along with the woman her two children (aged 1.5 and 3 years old) and her husband. At the hospital doctors did not admit her since in their assessment she was not ready to give birth. The police then transferred her to a port and gave her a plastic chair. She spent the night laying down on wooden pallets at the port. The next morning, she was transferred back to hospital where she gave birth.
On the same day, 23 August, the Cypriot coastguards placed all the individuals on a boat and sent them back to Lebanon – this included the woman’s husband and children. Three other people on the boat were later deported from Lebanon to Syria where they were held in detention.
Violations in chain
Since March 2020, under a controversial agreement with Lebanon which is still to be signed by the Lebanese Parliament, the Cypriot authorities have repeatedly resorted to pushing back boats to Lebanon and have denied individuals access to the asylum procedure. By refusing to offer basic care to refugees, denying them entry and pushing them back illegally to Lebanon, Cyprus is violating several articles of the European Convention on Human Rights and the 1951 Geneva Convention on the Status of Refugees, thus contributing to the chain refoulement of Syrian refugees to Syria, and putting them at risk of torture, ill-treatment, detention, enforced disappearance and death. This practice must end immediately.
List of signatories:
- The Lebanese Centre for Human Rights (CLDH),
- KISA – Equality, Support, Antiracism,
- Access Centre for human Rights (Wousoul)
- Centre d’accès pour les droits de l’Homme (ACHR)
- ALEF – Act for Human Rights,
- Racism Watch,
- Dignity Centre – Refugee Support Europe,
- Mediterranean Institute of Gender Studies (MIGS),
- Cyprus Refugee Council (CyRC),
- Refugee Rights Association (RRA),
- AGAPI Cyprus,
- Impunity Watch,
- Association for Victims of Torture in the UAE.
Notes to Editors
The testimony can be viewed and heard in the accompanying media, a video and audio recording. The testimony was recorded by Access Centre for Human Rights (ACHR) on 23 September 2021 and KISA on 25 September 2021.