31 refugees stranded 20 years on Cyprus base granted UK residency

Source: Xinhua| 2018-12-06 03:37:17|Editor: yan
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NICOSIA, Dec. 5 (Xinhua) -- A group of 31 refugees who were stranded in a British base in Cyprus for 20 years are finally preparing to leave for Britain after a legal battle of almost four years, a source with access to the base said on Wednesday.

"They will leave as soon as they receive documents required to enter the United Kingdom," the source said.

After fighting a legal case for almost four years, the British government, without accepting any liability, granted all members of the group leave to enter the United Kingdom for permanent residency.

The authorities of the British bases refused to confirm the news or comment on the decision.

The 31 refugees, members of six families, were among a group of 75 people from Ethiopia, Iraq, Syria and Sudan who beached on the shores of the British Akrotiri air base, after the fishing boat in which they were trying to reach Italy floundered off the south coast of Cyprus in October, 1998.

The territory of two areas Britain keeps on Cyprus as military bases is legally considered to be British soil, though there are no visible boundaries separating it from the rest of Cyprus.

Over the years, the Cypriot government accepted 44 of the refugees as asylum seekers, but the 31 refused to leave the territory of the British bases and demanded to be given the right to travel to Britain.

Time and again they protested and demonstrated to bring their demand to the public attention, but the British government refused to budge, fearing that it would create a precedent for other refugees to target the bases as a stepping stone to Britain.

The UK government denied legal responsibility for the claimants and their families, arguing that the Refugee Convention was never extended to the British bases and therefore the families had no grounds on which to seek resettlement in the UK.

The heads of the six families launched a legal case before a London court in January, 2017 against UK government over its refusal to give them leave to enter the country.

The British Court ruled that the Refugee Convention was applicable in the British bases.

All the time, the six families were kept within the Dhekelia base near the southeastern city of Larnaca, living in disused shacks which had been condemned to be demolished in 1997.

"Their children grew up in a confined space the size of a small neighborhood. They are now grown up people and the only place they have lived and been in is the inside of a military base," the source said on condition of anonymity.

Expert reports commissioned by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees in 2013 found high levels of anxiety and depression amongst the families with all children being assessed to have suffered in their "psychological health" due to their living conditions.

As Britain's Supreme Court was preparing for a final hearing before issuing a decision, the British government offered a settlement on Friday. It told their lawyers in London that the refugees would be allowed to settle anywhere they liked in Britain.

The source quoted the head claimant in the court case, Tag Bashir, an Iraqi, as saying that the refugees want to put the wasted years behind them and build a new life in Britain.

"I cannot express how happy our families are to be given the chance to start their lives all over again," the source quoted him as saying.