Migrants at British base in Cyprus claim asylum

Nicosia (AFP) - Some of the 114 migrants who arrived recently by boat at a British airbase in Cyprus have asked for asylum, the British military said Saturday, but their fate remains in limbo.

The migrants came ashore Wednesday at the Royal Air Force base at Akrotiri, from where British planes are carrying out bombing raids against the Islamic State jihadist group in Iraq.

"A small number of the migrants have already claimed asylum," a British military statement said.

Officials could not confirm if those who had asked for asylum would be handed over to Cypriot authorities to process their applications.

But the statement said: "RAF Akrotiri is not a route through which people will be able to get to the UK."

The British military said it could move all the migrants to another facility on the island at the Dhekelia Garrison.

"As a precautionary measure, a temporary transit facility is being provided at an appropriate location on the Sovereign Base Area should it become necessary to move the migrants," said the statement issued by British Forces Cyprus.

"In accordance with existing agreements, officials from the Republic of Cyprus (RoC) in collaboration with the SBAA (Sovereign Base Area Authority) continue to process the migrants and deal with all asylum claims through their system," it added.

A total of 28 children, 19 women and 67 men ? Syrian, Palestinians and Lebanese ? came ashore in two fishing boats.

They are being accommodated in a warehouse at Akrotiri, near the port of Limassol.

Cypriot immigration officers have conducted one-to-one interviews at Akrotiri to decide on the next steps.

The British defence ministry said on Wednesday the migrants should be handed over to the Cypriot authorities in line with a 2003 agreement for them to "take responsibility in circumstances like this".

Before that deal was signed, migrants landing on the bases had been left in legal limbo.

In 1998, a ramshackle fishing boat crammed with 75 migrants landed at Akrotiri, which lies in one of two base areas over which Britain retained sovereignty when Cyprus won independence in 1960.

Seventeen years on, some of them are still living on Dhekelia base, after repeated appeals for asylum in Britain were turned down.

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