Cyprus refugees stuck on British RAF base issue emotional pleas over 'prison-like' conditions

They have reason to be worried about how long they are being kept on the base

Adam Withnall
Tuesday 03 November 2015 12:32
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Refugees arriving at an RAF base in Cyprus
Refugees arriving at an RAF base in Cyprus

Refugees being detained on a British RAF base in Cyprus have issued emotional appeals to be released and allowed to seek asylum.

Journalists have been denied access to the 114 people, the majority of whom are Syrian, who arrived in two refugee boats on 21 October.

And while the Ministry of Defence released a series of images showing how the refugees were being received on Cyprus, videos and audio recordings obtained by the Guardian newspaper purport to show chaotic scenes at the UK base.

The refugees are being held on the Sovereign Base Area (SBA) of RAF Dhekelia, housed in tented accommodation which has been inspected by the UN.

They are not complaining specifically about the food or sleeping conditions, though one 12-year-old child was filmed describing the tents as “cold”.

Instead, they reportedly are angry at the fact that they are not being allowed to continue on to mainland Greece in their search for safer homes for their families.

Distressing scenes in the videos obtained by the Guardian show one man apparently trying to hang himself, and another man with a bloodied face who had reportedly cut himself.

There have also reportedly been a range of protests involving clashes with British police on the base.

One Syrian woman who identified herself as Manar told the Guardian: “We came here by mistake to escape the war. We spent three days at sea and were close to death. They count us every day as if we were in prison… We can’t stand it anymore.”

The group have reason to be concerned about the length of time they are being detained on the base. They are being housed at Dhekelia not far from a group of Iraqi, Sudanese and Ethiopian refugees who arrived at the other SBA – RAF Akrotiri – in 1998, and have never been allowed to leave.

The controversy surrounding that group was supposed to have led to a new agreement between the Cypriot authorities and the UK – but progress in moving on the new arrivals has been slow.

In a statement, the Ministry of Defence confirmed there had been “a series of incidents at the temporary accommodation facility in Cyprus”, but refused to comment on specifics.

A spokesperson said: “Those staying there have access to three meals a day, shelter, privacy and communications, which United Nations 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.”

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