Syrian migrants being housed in a military base on sovereign British soil in Cyprus have staged a series of dramatic protests, demanding to go to Germany or the UK. The ‘refugees’ burnt their tents, self-harmed and threatened to kill themselves because they are being asked to claim asylum in peaceful Cyprus.
The 114 migrants came ashore at RAF Akrotiri last month by accident, on four boats that were aiming for mainland Greece. The British government has insisted they claim asylum in Cyprus, as they work to avoid a new migration route into the UK opening up.
The group consists of 67 men, 19 women and 28 children. As yet, 14 have been handed over to the Cypriot authorities and the rest await their asylum applications to be processed on the island.
Despite safely escaping Syria and being offered food and shelter by the British, the migrants are not happy. Some demand to be allowed to travel on to Germany, others say they should be granted asylum in Britain, and one likened their accommodation to Guantanamo Bay.
Yesterday, one screaming man climbed a barbed wire fence as another shouted: “We are people, not animal!” Another threatened to hang himself from the rafters of an aircraft hanger and one covered himself in blood after self-harming in protest. British police, armed with tasers and handcuffs, tried to calm the situation.
The migrants filmed the incidents on their smartphones and distributed the footage themselves to highlight their plight. The man covered in blood said: “We have asked for journalists to be here, why are you hiding us?”
Ibrahim Marouf, 37, a Palestinian from Lebanon who was speaking on behalf of the group, urged Prime Minister David Cameron to show humanity.
“We are in his hands. If he’s a real human, so are we,” he said. “He’s afraid if we go to the UK, others will too. Don’t make a lesson of us”, he told the Daily Mail.
Mr Marouf said the migrants didn’t want to be in Akrotiri: “We didn’t want to come here. We were going to Greece. None of us wants to be here… we should go to England. We told them we want to go to England, but they told us, ‘no’. Now we’re in a British prison.”
A British government spokesman said:
“We are aware of a series of incidents at the temporary accommodation facility in Cyprus.
“Those staying there have access to three meals a day, shelter, privacy and communications, which United Nations [UN] staff have visited and say exceeds the standard of comparable set-ups.
“We continue to work closely with the Cypriot authorities to resolve this situation as quickly as possible. The UK government will not allow a new migrant route to open up to the UK.”
Towards the end of last month the UN waded into the discussions between Cyprus and the UK over who should be responsible for migrants, telling Britain they should shoulder the cost.
However, the British are insisting on adherence to a 2004 agreement between the two countries, which stipulates that asylum seekers that come to the base from Cyprus should claim asylum on the island or return to their country of origin.