Cyprus official says 700 migrants could land in next week

NICOSIA, Cyprus — Up to 700 migrants could arrive on the Mediterranean island of Cyprus next week on smuggling trips from Turkey, a top Cypriot official said Saturday, hours after 93 migrants landed in the dark on the island's northwestern shore.

Cyprus Interior Minister Socrates Hasikos, who made the comment to state broadcaster RIK, said authorities could handle any new arrivals as long as their numbers remained low. His prediction was based on reports about the activities of a known Turkish smuggler, he said.

Officials on the eastern Mediterranean island said they believe Saturday's smuggling trip began in Mersin, Turkey.

Bashir Khashan said he had to sell his home in the Syrian village of Edlib to raise $12,000 to pay Turkish smugglers to get his wife, four children and a son-in-law aboard the overcrowded boat that landed just after midnight. Officials said those on the boat included 42 children and 17 women.

Khashan, 49, was among several Syrians waiting outside a migrants' reception center near the Cypriot capital of Nicosia to greet his family after the perilous, 30-hour boat trip.

"There was no other way to get them here," Khashan told The Associated Press. "What else can you do? You either die at sea or you die in the village."

Khashan said the Syrian government had reserved particularly harsh treatment for the residents of Edlib, leaving him little choice but to flee. His arrived in Cyprus by boat six months ago, got a temporary residence permit, but is having a hard time finding work after suffering a back wound from an airstrike in Syria. He's still trying to figure out how to get his eldest daughter from Turkey to Cyprus.

Hamid Idris didn't find out that his wife Majeda and three children — three-year-old Razan, six-year-old Rafi and nine-year-old Reem — were going to be on the boat until his father-in-law told him Thursday evening.

"I haven't slept a moment in 48 hours," Idris, 33, told the AP. "I didn't want my children on that boat. It's like you're throwing the dice with their lives."

Idris, who has been in Cyprus since 2011 and works at an animal shelter, last saw his family two years ago in Istanbul.

Both men said authorities told them their families could join them in the next few days.

Police said the boat early Saturday was spotted 15 kilometers (9 miles) off the coast before landing near the village of Kato Pyrgos. Cyprus' Civil Defense acting commander Loukas Hadjimichael said it was the first migrant boat to arrive this year and the 11th to land bringing a total 948 migrants since September 2014.

Cyprus lies 100 miles (160 kilometers) off Syria's Mediterranean coast, but has not had the massive inflow of refugees and migrants that Turkey and Greece have experienced.

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This version corrects to say that the boat landed in northwest Cyprus.

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