Seven Syrians who tried to sail to Cyprus to escape the conflict in their homeland drowned after their boat sank last week, the UN refugee agency said on Tuesday.
In a statement, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees said that it was “concerned to learn of the deaths at sea of seven Syrians aboard a fishing boat that sank off the north coast of Cyprus late last week.”
“The boat was carrying four men, one woman, and two children according to the coastguard.”
The UNHCR said that two further people on board, believed to be people-smugglers, reached safety and were later arrested.
Refugees have fled to neighbouring Lebanon, Turkey, Jordan and Iraq but this was the “first case” of refugees attempting to cross to Cyprus, around 100 kilometres (62 miles) from the shores of Syria, said UNCHR spokesman Melissa Fleming.
“It is hard to know if this is a trend,” she added.
Some 25,000 people have been killed since an uprising against Bashar al-Assad’s rule first erupted in March 2011, according to activists. The UN says at least 200,000 people have fled the fighting to neighbouring countries while another 2.5 million are in need inside Syria.