by Compiled from Wire Services
Oct 12, 2016 12:00 am
The Greek Cypriot half of the divided island of Cyprus is the only European Union member country in the eastern Mediterranean, and is now becoming a favorite destination for Syrian migrants in pursuit of a better life in Europe.
The Turkish Coast Guard intercepted 100 illegal Syrian migrants off the coast of Mersin, the island's closest Turkish province, late on Monday. This group was the latest to head to the island by boat after some 114 migrants were stopped off the Mersin coast on Sept. 26. Security sources said the migrants' final destination was Southern Cyprus, the name Turkey officially uses in reference to the Republic of Cyprus, which goes unrecognized by Ankara due to a dispute between Turkish and Greek Cypriots over the island's status.
The migrants caught were departing from the Erdemli district, and included 60 children all huddled in a small boat, meant for a maximum of 20 persons, when they were intercepted some 5 miles from the coast. Authorities said the fishing boat was under surveillance for months due to an intelligence report that it might be used for human smuggling. The migrants were brought to a police station after a medical examination at a hospital before they were sent to an accommodation center used by the local immigration agency. Authorities detained the unidentified owner of the boat following the incident.
Unlike the Greek islands in the Aegean Sea, which are the closest gateway to Europe for migrants setting off from Turkey's western shores aboard dinghies to islands located only a few miles away, Southern Cyprus is hundreds of kilometers away from the nearest mainland Turkish coast. Still, being a member of European Union makes it favorable among Syrian migrants, especially those traveling to the Mediterranean shores of Turkey from southern cities close to its border with Syria.
In the wake of an agreement between Turkey, home to nearly 3 million Syrian refugees, and the EU, which is the favorite destination of migrants from Africa and the Middle East, migration to Europe significantly dropped. Official figures show a 90 percent drop in crossings by sea following the deal in March that aimed to stop human smugglers trafficking migrants across the Aegean in dinghies. The deal allowed the return of "irregular migrants" to Turkey from Greece in exchange for the relocation of Syrian refugees in Turkey to EU countries.
Figures show that 27,028 refugees were intercepted by Turkey so far this year.