Migrants come ashore on British RAF base in Cyprus

A general view at the entrance to the British airbase at Akrotiri, near Cyprus' second city of Limassol.
A general view at the entrance to the British airbase at Akrotiri, near Cyprus' second city of Limassol.AFP

ATHENS (Reuters) - Two boatloads of migrants came ashore at a British military base on Cyprus on Wednesday, authorities said, the first time since Europe's migrant crisis began that refugees have landed directly on what is considered British sovereign soil.

Vessels carrying the migrants were spotted in the early morning hours off RAF Akrotiri, a sprawling military facility on the southern coast of Cyprus used to bomb Islamic State targets in northern Iraq. Authorities initially said there were four boats, but later corrected that figure to two. "We have not established where they are from yet," a spokesman for the bases said.

Authorities said there were about 140 people travelling in the two vessels, including women and children. They were believed to be Syrian, the Cyprus News Agency reported.

The status of migrant arrivals on the British bases was not immediately clear. The British bases still host a very small number of Iraqi Kurds who landed on a ramshackle fishing boat in 1998, and who are effectively stateless.

Despite its proximity to Syria, EU member Cyprus has not seen any of the massive influx of refugees seen by either Italy or Greece, where arrivals have topped 500,000 this year.

Refugees have tended to avoid the island because of its relative geographical isolation from the rest of Europe and difficulties in leaving.

RAF Akrotiri is one of two sovereign territories retained by Britain on Cyprus, a colony until 1960.