Rescued Syrian migrants refuse to leave Cypriot cruise ship

The migrants, including 52 children, are believed to be Syrian civilians escaping conflict in their homeland

A man waits with children after disembarking from the cruise ship
A man waits with children after disembarking from the cruise ship

More than 300 people, apparent refugees fleeing from Syria, refused to leave a cruise ship that rescued them from a small boat stranded off Cyprus, a cruise line official said Thursday.

Salamis Cruise Lines Managing Director Kikis Vasiliou said that the people are insisting that they be taken to Italy instead.

Vasiliou blamed Cypriot authorities for keeping him in the dark about how they intend to resolve the situation. Vasiliou said his company received the request from Cypriot Search and Rescue authorities to assist in the rescue operation on Thursday morning. 

Cypriot officials said that the 345 people, including 52 children, were to be taken to a reception center near the capital Nicosia where they would be given shelter and medical attention until authorities determine what will happen to them.

Dozens of civil defense officials, medical staff and police were waiting at dockside to receive the people after the cruise ship had docked. A small group did disembark from the ship to negotiate with authorities but talks broke off with the group returning to the ship.

But several adults holding small children were seen leaving the cruise ship, while one man led away by police in handcuffs.

A man later came on the cruise ship's public address system to urge the group to disembark through an Arabic-speaking interpreter by telling them that authorities would do all they can to send those who met the criteria to other European countries.

The people were packed aboard a small vessel that issued a distress call early Thursday amid rough seas and high winds, some 50 nautical miles off Cyprus' southwest coast.

The Cypriot Defense Ministry said the boat had "most likely" set sail from Syria loaded with "civilian refugees."