World News

Iranian asylum seekers protest up Cyprus water tower

NICOSIA (Reuters) - Six Iranian asylum seekers refused on Wednesday to climb down from a water tower in a Cyprus prison they have occupied for four days to back demands they be allowed to live on the Mediterranean island.

The protest highlights a problem affecting thousands who arrive illegally in EU member Cyprus seeking asylum, without identification documents. They can languish in detention centres for years.

Police initially tried to coax the six down with food but have since sent rations up the tower.

“Negotiations aimed at convincing the detainees to climb down from the water tower were held without a positive outcome. Police will continue their efforts,” a police spokeswoman said.

According to the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNCHR), there were 10,428 asylum applications pending in Cyprus as of May 2007.

Some asylum seekers remain in police cells for as long as four years because they carry no documentation proving their country of origin and therefore cannot be deported.

It is the second time in a month detainees have seized the tower to underscore their plight.

Justice Minister Sophocles Sophocleous told state radio the government sympathised with the detainees but would not give in to blackmail that would open the floodgates to similar action.