Nicosia: At least 19 refugees drowned and up to 30 were missing Wednesday after their boat sank in the Mediterranean off the north of Cyprus, local security forces said. The boat was carrying 150 people when it went down off the coast of the breakaway Turkish Cypriot-controlled portion of the island, which is only recognised by Ankara.
Over 100 people were rescued in a joint operation by Turkish Cypriot and Turkish coastguards after the boat sank off the village of Gialousa (Yeni Erenkoy in Turkish) on the panhandle Karpas peninsula.
At least 19 drowned and between 25 and 30 were still missing, the Turkish Cypriot security forces (GKK) said in a statement. One severely wounded victim was taken by helicopter to Cyprus, the GKK added.
Search efforts were under way to recover the missing with commercial vessels also taking part, reports said. Turkey´s DHA news agency said that the refugees were Syrians seeking to go to Europe but this had yet to be confirmed.
Cyprus, some 160 kilometres (100 miles) from Syria´s coast, has not seen the massive inflow of migrants experienced by Turkey, Greece and Italy although asylum applications have risen sharply.
The island has been divided since 1974 when Turkish troops invaded and occupied the northern third of the island in response to a Greek military junta-sponsored coup. Turkey has however been one of the hubs for refugees fleeing Syria and other trouble spots like Afghanistan and Iraq.
Over a million people, many fleeing the war in Syria, crossed to European Union member Greece from Turkey in 2015 after the onset of the bloc´s worst migration crisis since World War II.
Turkey struck a deal with the EU in 2016 in an effort to stem the flow of migrants, and agreed to take back illegal migrants landing on Greek islands in exchange for incentives including financial aid.