The Greek Cypriot administration in southern Cyprus has said it is willing to allow up to 300 refugees seek asylum on the island while laying out a preference for Christians.
Speaking on Monday, Greek Cypriot Interior Minister Socratis Hasikos said that he had agreed to set a capacity of 260 refugees to be settled on the island under plans for EU countries to distribute a total of 160,000 refugees in the bloc.
Hasikos added this number could rise to 300 maximum, but also said he would prefer the refugees to be Orthodox Christians.
“It's not an issue of being inhuman or not helping if we are called upon, but to be honest, yes, that's what we would prefer," Hasikos said, adding they would find it easier to adjust to life in Cyprus.
Cyprus is located just 100 kilometres west of Syria but is often bypassed by refugees travelling from Syria as they attempt to make it to mainland Europe.
While the Greek Cypriot administration in the south, which enjoys EU membership, is predominantly Greek Orthodox, the majority of people living in the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (TRNC) are Muslims.
The Interior Minister’s statement came a day after 114 refugees were rescued just 40 nautical miles from the port of Larnaca in southern Cyprus.
The boat, which had left from the Syrian port town of Tartus before stopping off in Tripoli, northern Lebanon, was carrying a mixed group of Syrians, Lebanese and Palestinians. Over 50 of the passengers were women or children.
According to Hasikos, the refugees were destined for Greece from which they hoped to move on to other parts of mainland Europe.
Three people who confessed to trafficking the refugees were also arrested after the Joint Rescue Coordination Centre brought the boat to Larnaca hours after picking up the distress call made by the boat’s captain late on Saturday night. The captain was among those arrested, the local newspaper Phileleftheros reported.
The refugees were said to be in good condition and 87 of them were transferred to the Kokkinotrimithia reception camp just outside southern Nicosia shortly after being rescued. Others who had asked for asylum in Cyprus were sent to an asylum centre outside Larnaca, according to the official Greek Cypriot news agency CNA.
Over 300 refugees had previously been based in the Kokkinotrimithia camp after they were rescued by a cruise liner off the island last September, but they were later forced to move on when the camp was closed after only being given enough allowance to survive for another week.
Although the allowance included enough fees for the refugees to apply for a renewable six-month humanitarian temporary residence permit with access to the job market or for a tourist visa, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) at the time said that only 165 refugees had applied for, and obtained, residence and work permits.
Another 71 refugees reportedly submitted their asylum applications and were relocated to the Kofinou reception centre for asylum seekers, but others said they were reluctant to apply for asylum, fearing they would instead be granted subsidiary protection, meaning they could not bring over family from Syria.
An immigrant support group known as KISA had also called for more support for the refugees and condemned the Greek Cypriot authorities for not doing enough, saying the refugees, including a lot of children, had been “left alone in the middle of the streets with just a trash-bag containing their belongings.”
The Mediterranean has been crossed by more than 350,000 refugees so far this year in an attempt to enter Europe as they flee conditions of war and poverty, the International Organization for Migration stated.
Some 2,600 refugees have died while trying to cross the sea due to using unseaworthy boats. The AFP news agency reported that 234,778 people has made it to Greece, 114,276 made it to Italy, 2,166 debarked in Spain and 94 arrived in Malta.
The enormous number of refugees that have already crossed the Mediterranean Sea, far exceeds last year's number, which was 219,000 for the entire 2014.