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Refugees trapped between hostile Cypriot coastguard and the sea ‘fear they will die of hunger’

REFUGEES in at least four boats off the coast of Cyprus have told activists they fear they will die of hunger as the coastguard refuses to let them land.

Distress hotline Alarm Phone initially received an SOS from 73 people in two boats on their way to Cyprus on Tuesday.

“They report that they have been at sea for four days and some people are sick. They have no food and water left,” the activist-run organisation said that morning.

Then today the team was contacted by people on two more boats in the same situation, refused landing by Cyprus’s maritime authorities.  

Local media reported today that two of five boats, carrying about 500 people in total, had been pushed back to Lebanon.

Alarm Phone’s last update on the refugees in danger today said: “One of the groups report that [the coastguard] told them they will never reach Cyprus and must return to Syria.

“This breaches the Refugee Convention and puts their lives at extreme risk.”

Earlier this week, the Cypriot government announced that it would no longer process asylum applications from Syrian passport holders.

Last week, the country’s President Nicos Christodoulides visited Lebanon to appeal to authorities there to stop the boat departures.

Mr Christodoulides’s government is also attempting to convince the European Union to designate parts of war-torn Syria as “safe zones” in order to make deportations easier.

International maritime law requires sea captains of any vessel at sea to “proceed with all possible speed to the rescue of persons in distress” and to deliver them to a place of safety.  

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