ISTANBUL:Sixteen refugees were drowned and around 30 missing Wednesday after their boat sank in the Mediterranean off the north of Cyprus, Turkish state media reports said.
The boat was carrying 150 people when it went down off the village of Yeni Erenkoy in 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, reports added.
Search efforts were under way to recover the missing with commercial vessels also taking part, the reports added.
Turkey’s DHA news agency said that the refugees were Syrians seeking to go to Europe but this has 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 been rising 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 a 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.—AFP