With Greece under fire for allegedly pushing refugees and migrants on boats back into the sea toward Turkey from where they came, Human Rights Watch said Cyprus has been doing the same.
The activist group said Cypriot authorities back 200 migrants and refugees arriving from Lebanon aboard boats earlier this month, ignoring their claims for asylum and even becoming abusive and violent against them.
It also accused Cypriot marine police officers of beating some migrants and making threats and that Coast Guard boats tried to swamp their boats by circling them at high speed, and abandoning one at sea without food or fuel.
Curiously, while close to the coast of Turkey, which has allowed human traffickers to keep sending refugees and migrants to five Greek islands during an essentially-suspended 2016 swap deal with the European Union, Cyprus has not been a favorite destination as it is for migrants from India.
The group cited interviews with 15 Lebanese and Syrian nationals who tried to reach the island from Tripoli, Lebanon, aboard seven boats between Aug. 29-Sept. 7, witnesses said returned to their homeland, claiming they were handcuffed and beaten.
One Lebanese national identified only by his first name who accused Cypriot police of using a cattle prod on him aboard a boat on Sept. 6 after he shouted at them to rescue a couple who jumped overboard.
The watchdog urged Cypriot judicial authorities to carry out an investigation into the allegations and prosecute anyone found to have committed wrongdoing and for the EU to get involved but there was no initial response.
“People who risk their lives and their children’s lives by fleeing Lebanon by boat do so when they are truly desperate,” Human Right Watch official Bill Frelick told The Associated Press. ”They have a right to have their claims for international protection considered.”
Cyprus had said it was willing to take in refugees and migrants but said it's overwhelmed and can't handle any more, especially those not fleeing war and strife but economic hardships, unlike those who went to Turkey from Iraq and Afghanistan's war zones.
Interior Minister Nicos Nouris said earlier this month that the Cypriot government is coordinating with Lebanese authorities to take back migrants arriving from that country in line with international law.
(Material from the Associated Press was used in this report)