The Lebanese Center for Human Rights (CLDH) has received information from multiple sources that on 04 July 2022, 52 passengers, including women and children, on a boat leaving from Lebanon to Italy were pushed back from Cyprus to Lebanon, after enduring inhumane conditions and ill treatment by the Cypriot authorities.
The undersigned organizations call on the government of Cyprus to immediately halt all pushbacks to Lebanon, in violation of EU and international human rights law and the 2002 readmission agreement between Cyprus and Lebanon, and allow access to its territory to all people seeking protection at its borders. Both governments should make public any additional implementing protocols or agreements between the two countries that operationalize the readmission agreement.
According to testimonies from survivors gathered by CLDH, the shipwreck took place near the shores of Paphos, Cyprus, due to bad weather conditions. Passengers then sought the support of Cypriot authorities which “left them for two days in the boat while it was sinking”, one survivor stated.
Another survivor mentioned that the Cypriot authorities didn’t immediately provide medical assistance for two women who were pregnant, including his wife, adding that they intentionally hit passengers and broke the engine to stop them from leaving. “They refused to let us on the shore as well.”
After about an hour and a half, the boat was filled with water and passengers were provided with a water pump to remove the water from the boat, but it stopped working shortly after. “We then asked them to send us a new one; they refused and told us to collect the water from the boat using our clothes,” he continued.
One of the survivors stated that “a passenger had a kidney transplant and a battery in his arm. He asked for water to take his medicine, but authorities refused to give him and told him to swallow the pills without water. One of them attempted to strangle him with his hand.” Another passenger told CLDH “whenever we would ask for water or where we were going, they would hit us” he added: “my daughter was sleeping next to me when they came to hit me and her”.
Based on several testimonials, the Cypriot authorities made the passengers believe that they would be taken to Cyprus. Instead, after being kept in a small room on a boat without access to air, food or water, the passengers found themselves back in Lebanon.
After spending two days in dire conditions on the wrecked boat, passengers were pushed back to Lebanon.
Inhumane treatment and pushbacks by Cyprus with risk of chain refoulement to Syria
Since March 2020, under a non-public agreement with Lebanon, Cypriot authorities have repeatedly resorted to pushing back boats to Lebanon and have denied individuals access to the territory and the asylum procedure. Lebanon has not published this agreement, which is a violation of access to information law no. 28/2017.
In June 2022, according to testimonies collected by CLDH, two Syrian passengers who tried to flee to Cyprus were also tricked by the Cypriot authorities and returned to Lebanon. “We informed them we wanted to apply for asylum, but they told us first to continue to Italy, then they said that they were taking us to Cyprus but returned us to Lebanon” a survivor mentioned. He then added that two of the passengers were returned to Syria once they arrived in Lebanon.
With these actions, the Cypriot authorities would have allegedly violated the country’s obligations under EU and international human rights law, including the European Convention of Human Rights and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (Art. 14). The European Court of Human Rights, as well as the UN Committee against Torture, already admitted two cases submitted by survivors from earlier pushbacks from Cyprus to Lebanon.
Many international organizations and actors denounced these unlawful practices, including Council of Europe’s Commissioner for Human Rights, Dunja Mijatović, and the UN special rapporteur on the Human Rights of Migrants.
A call for urgent actions for the respect of human rights
By preventing access to its territory, denying access to asylum, and by pushing back vessels at sea to Lebanon – with the high risk of chain refoulements to Syria – Cyprus is violating the principle of non-refoulement set out under the 1951 Geneva Convention and EU law on asylum, and infringes Article 3 of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR), Article 3 of the UN Convention on Torture, Inhuman and Degrading Treatment or Punishment and Article 16 of the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance.
Cyprus is also breaching Article 4 of Protocol No. 4 of the ECHR on prohibition of collective expulsions as it does not provide for an individual examination of the cases.
Additionally, the Cypriot authorities have failed to inform public opinion about their pushback policies and practices, the circumstances and conditions of the refugees seeking asylum. What is more alarming is that the authorities have refused to give information to NGOs, which in effect prevented these human-rights organizations from supporting and safeguarding the human rights of the refugees pushed back.By deporting people back to Syria, a country that still practices torture, Lebanon is violating Article 3 of the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (ratified in October 2000).
The undersigned organizations call on:
- The Lebanese government to abide by its obligations under international treaties, including its obligation to not deport or forcibly return individuals at risk of torture. This means immediately halting arbitrary deportations of Syrians from Lebanon to Syria, and adopting policies that guarantee the necessary protection of Syrian refugees in Lebanon.
- The Cypriot government to abide by EU and international obligations to respect the right to seek asylum and the principle of non-refoulement, provide assistance to boats in distress at sea by carrying out search and rescue operations, providing access to its territory, the asylum procedure and adequate reception conditions, and immediately stop all push-backs and any ill-treatment against people seeking protection in Cyprus.
- The Cypriot government to conduct a transparent, thorough and impartial investigation into allegations that the Cypriot coast guard personnel were involved in acts that put the lives and safety of migrants and asylum seekers at risk.
- The Cypriot and Lebanese governments to immediately make public the content of the readmission agreement signed between them and provide clear and unambiguous safeguards against direct or indirect refoulement in line with their international obligations.
- The European Commission to take all necessary actions in order to prevent the Cypriot authorities from violating EU Law, including the principle of non-refoulement, and to call on Cyprus to reveal the content of any Cyprus-Lebanon readmission agreements and additional protocols.
- Lebanese Center for Human Rights (CLDH)
- EuroMed Rights
- KISA – Action for Equality, Support, Antiracism