Cyprus rescuers save 114 refugees fleeing Syria in fishing boat
NICOSIA - Rescuers in Cyprus on Sunday saved more than 100 refugees fleeing the Syrian war after their boat ran into trouble overnight off the Mediterranean island, authorities said.
The 114 Syrians, including 54 women and children, had been aboard a small fishing boat about 40 nautical miles from the southern Cypriot port of Larnaca at the time they struck trouble, said a source in the island's Joint Rescue Coordination Centre.
The alarm was raised late on Saturday night, prompting the police and army to launch a rescue operation, police said.
All of those on board the stricken vessel were safely brought ashore to Larnaca by 7:00 am (0400 GMT) on Sunday, police said.
None of them had suffered any injuries.
Police said it was not yet known whether the refugees were destined for Cyprus, a member of the European Union, or beyond.
The eastern Mediterranean island has so far avoided a mass influx of refugees fleeing the conflict in Syria, unlike neighbouring Greece.
According to the website of Greek Cypriot daily Phileleftheros, those rescued said they had paid more than $4,000 each (about 3,600 euros) to be taken to a "European destination".
Phileleftheros said police are questioning three people for suspected human trafficking, with one of them thought to be the captain of the boat.
Police were unable to immediately confirm the report.
They added that after being processed the refugees would be taken to a reception centre on the outskirts of the capital Nicosia later on Sunday.
Cyprus lies just 100 kilometres (60 miles) off the Syrian coast but has not seen a major influx of refugees from the country's conflict, with most preferring to bypass the island in favour of reaching the European mainland.
Some 345 Syrian and Palestinian refugees were rescued by a cruise liner in stormy waters off the island's coast last September and housed for several months before their camp was closed.
Two months later, about 220 Syrian refugees crammed onto a fishing boat were rescued off the coast of Turkish-occupied northern Cyprus after hitting rough seas.
Europe has been facing an unprecedented influx this summer of people seeking refuge, many of them from war-torn Syria.
The UN refugee agency says more than 2,500 people have died trying to cross the Mediterranean this year, many of them Syrian refugees desperate to escape their country's four-and-a-half year war.