Cyprus has sent 88 Syrian migrants back to Lebanon after they tried to reach the island on two boats.
Interior Minister Nicos Nouris told The Associated Press that rescue crews continue to search for one of five men who jumped overboard after police vessels intercepted their boat off Cyprus’ eastern coast.
Nouris said police picked up four men, but the fifth, who was wearing a mask, flippers, and a life preserver, managed to swim away.
One pregnant woman and another man who was ill were airlifted to hospital.
Coastal radar had picked up two vessels approaching the Cypriot coastline Sunday evening.
Marine police vessels intercepted the boats – which carried a combined 48 men, 15 women and 25 minors –15 kilometres from the coast.
They were transferred to a chartered boat on Monday for the journey back to Lebanon under police escort.
Last year, Cyprus signed an agreement with Lebanon to take back anyone trying to reach the island by boat.
Nouris said Cyprus has a right to protect its borders from such irregular migration despite criticism by human rights groups that the deal violates international law because migrants aren’t given a chance to apply for asylum.
More than 1,337 Syrians have reached Cyprus by sea since 2019.
Many more migrants come from Turkey through the divided island’s Turkish occupied breakaway north.
Authorities say the number of migrants who have received or have applied for protection in Cyprus now accounts for 4% of the population.
Nicosia has asked the European Union’s border agency Frontex to stem the flow of migrant arrivals from countries including Turkey, Syria, and Lebanon.
Cyprus lies 170 kilometres west of Syria and 230 kilometres from Lebanon. (source AP)