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Refugees arrive on British soil at Cyprus base

For the first time, refugees attempting to reach Europe via the Mediterranean have landed on British territory. Two boatloads of migrants arrived at a British military base on the island nation of Cyprus.

Several thousand people from the Africa and the Middle East have made a treacherous crossing of the Mediterranean in an attempt to reach Europe, but on Wednesday, a small group of refugees achieved a first by landing on British soil.

Two small boats carrying a total of 140 people landed at a Royal Air Force base at Akrotiri on the island of Cyprus. The base, one of two installations on the former island colony retained by Britain, is considered sovereign British territory. Akrotiri is now used by the Royal Air Force to launch airstrikes against "Islamic State" (IS) militants in Iraq.

The origin of the two refugee boats is unknown, but the Cyprus News Agency reported that the refugees were Syrian. Some children were among the passengers on the two boats, which were spotted by fishermen early on Wednesday morning.

While Cyprus has rescued some refugee boats near its shores, which lie closest to Syria of any European country, far more have headed for Italy and Greece.

Over 500,000 migrants have arrived in Greece

alone this year.

In September, British Prime Minister David Cameron announced plans to expand the UK's relocation program for Syrian refugees. The new program will see 20,000 Syrians in need of protection resettled in Britain over the next five years.

mz/es (AFP, AP, Reuters)

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