When dozens of refugees in a stricken boat were rescued by British servicemen off Cyprus in 1998 they can't have known that, instead of achieving their dream of a new, peaceful life filled with opportunity in Europe, they would be trapped in geographical and legal limbo for the next 18 years.
During that time, dozens of the remaining refugees have experienced love, loss, marriage, and birth, yet their status, futures, and the futures of their children are still as uncertain as the day they arrived on Cyprus.
Several days after the fishing vessel embarked on its intended journey from Lebanon to Italy in October 1998, the engine started struggling. There were 75 people on board, including 10 women and 24 children. The youngest was just two days old.
The asylum seekers came from countries including Ethiopia, Sudan, Iraq, and Syria. The trip was organized by smugglers, who charged $2,000 per passenger. When disaster struck, the trip could have proved fatal, but luckily someone spotted land. Several men took charge, steering the boat towards the distant speck that signified their only hope of survival.
They were then airlifted from the sea by British servicemen. Instead of reaching Italy, the group had ended up near the RAF's Akrotiri military airfield in Cyprus, an act of chance which threw them unsuspectingly into a long-running and quickly politicized legal quandary.
"That's where the story started, when we applied for refugee status," Tag Bashir said. He was 26 when he boarded the boat — now he's 44. "When we looked for land we didn't realize it was a base, we were just looking to save our lives."
During the two years after arriving the asylum seekers were processed and some deported, according to Bashir, while others were assessed as being entitled to refugee status. This group quickly learned, however, that though they had arrived in Europe on British territory they could not continue on to the UK, with the British Home Office arguing that allowing the refugees to enter could constitute a "pull factor" and encourage other asylum seekers to try and reach the same area, effectively creating a "back door" to Britain.
Meanwhile, the Republic of Cyprus refused to take charge of them, saying they were the UK's responsibility.
The ensuing lengthy legal case was brought by six families, totaling 35 people, all of whom are recognized refugees.
While British Home Secretary Theresa May officially denied them entry in 2014, in April 2016 this decision was formally quashed by London's high court. It briefly looked like the UK was finally on the horizon for these families, until last week the Home Office announced an appeal.
Tessa Gregory, the lawyer representing Bashir and the other refugees, told VICE News that she had also sought permission for her clients to continue "to fight for the only lawful durable solution: resettlement of our clients in the UK."
She said she would be seeking expedition "to ensure this case is heard as quickly as possible given the increasingly hopeless and squalid conditions our clients and their children are having to endure."
"The government could still avoid further costly legal proceedings by allowing this small group of recognized refugees to resettle in the UK," Gregory added. "To do so would not create a dangerous precedent or a back door to the UK, it would simply be a humanitarian response in recognition of the unique circumstances of these families."
In the meantime, though, April's judgment has given some hope to the group, with the UK at one point appearing one step closer.
VICE News spoke to one of the lead claimants, as well as his 16-year-old son, about what their life on Cyprus has been like up until now, and what they wish to happen next.
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"I can't wait to come over there," Bashir told VICE News, reflecting on the court ruling. "We've had very, very, very, very tough times over here. We're in limbo," he continued, struggling to describe the last 18 years. "The kids don't have any life to enjoy, any rights."
Bashir's family was originally from Juba, now the capital of South Sudan, though he grew up in the north of the country. "We experienced the life of being refugees already there," he said.
His father was in the army and Bashir said the government tried to force him to fight against his own people. "I lost all my family and I lost my best friends, everyone in South Sudan, and that's one of the main reasons I left."
Yet Bashir doesn't regret that decision. "It's getting worse and worse and worse there. There's no stable life anywhere in South Sudan since they got [independence]. The politics has not settled down. People are still suffering. More complications than before."
Bashir fled to Syria, then to Lebanon, where he paid a smuggler to sail his ex-wife and him to Italy. "We wanted to start new lives, we had that hope," he said.
His three children — now aged 16, 7, and 5 — have all been born on the British base on Cyprus. Bashir split up with his first wife and married another woman, also a survivor of the refugee ship, he said.
They're all still living there. Bashir, his wife, and the two youngest children inhabit a room he built in the back yard of their original shelter in Richmond Village in the Dhekelia airbase, on Cyprus's southeastern coast. This is one of the two British bases which take up just under 160 square miles on the island. They are home to around 7,500 Brits, including service personnel, UK-based civilians, and their families.
Bashir's living conditions differ greatly from most of the area's other residents, however. Each month, he receives 520 euros ($590) from the UK government, he said. From this, he pays them back rent and the cost of electricity and water, leaving him with 350 euros ($400) to support his family.
A builder by profession, he gets odd jobs in Cyprus, though this became much more difficult after the financial crisis hit in 2009, something Bashir bemoaned. Once in the UK, he said: "I have to work hard to support my two small kids as much as I can."
The April court ruling in Bashir's case details a long and complex dispute between Cyprus and the UK, with British officials steadily and repeatedly arguing against relocation, which they said was "not on politically," while organizations such as the UN Refugees Agency also became involved, appealing for the families to be moved.
According to the ruling, a Ministry of Defense official wrote in 1999 that while the refugees were the responsibility of the UK government, the authorities had no means of discharging that responsibility within the bases. "We frankly see no realistic alternative to their resettlement in the UK," he said.
"We do not believe that we would be opening the floodgates were we to admit this handful of people into the UK." The official also stated that the bases would not become targets for asylum seekers because of the likelihood they would accidentally end up in Cyprus, where "the Republic's approach to illegal immigrants can be expected to deter all but the most desperate."
Meanwhile, a letter written by the administrators of the base in 2002 described the conditions the refugees were living in at that time: "There are no practical employment opportunities in the [British bases]… [The refugees'] children go to a special 'school' which has no proper curriculum, teaches only in English and prepares them for precisely nothing (just as well, since that is all they have to look forward to).
"Medical and dental cover is essentially for emergencies only. We give them limited financial benefits, but there are no social services and, for example, no mechanisms for dealing with children at risk or dysfunctional families."
The judgment also outlined the changing treatment of the refugees throughout the time they've been in Cyprus. Before 2005, for example, the families were allowed to visit the areas that the British military workers inhabited so their children could play football tournaments on astroturf pitches or to visit the medical center for routine treatment. This was later prohibited.
In 2008, the refugee families discovered there was asbestos in their accommodation, leading their lawyer to argue that they should be moved to the UK — a bid which was again rejected. The financial crisis then hit the country hard, resulting in the eventual failure of Cypriot banks, something the refugee families argued meant that they wouldn't receive proper care if they left the British airbases.
The dispute over this group of refugees led to a memorandum of understanding between Cyprus and the UK. This ruled that Cyprus will take asylum applications from individuals who arrive on the British bases — but still this only applies to those who washed ashore after 2003.
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"Nobody was expecting this," Bashir's son, 16-year-old Kamal, told VICE News, while speaking about his unconventional childhood which saw him born in limbo on the British base and growing up without papers.
"It's scary if you think about it because [my parents] could have died in that small boat. They came here in the hope that [they would be] saved, [they'd] have a normal life now."
Kamal is in 10th grade. His name has been changed because of a court order for anonymity. He has two years of school left and doesn't know what he'll do afterwards.
He's a normal teenager in many ways. He likes singing R&B songs — R Kelly and the Weeknd are his favorite musicians — and the school subject he's best at is science. He said he was planning to major in basketball before hurting his knee.
Kamal is sitting exams in a week and he'll have to take them in Greek. "It was difficult when I was younger but now I'm used to it. I'm still struggling sometimes because I don't speak Greek at home, it's not my main language," he said.
Bashir also expressed sadness that he can't help his children with their education. They were in an English-language school on the base until it closed in 2005.
Kamal said it was a shock to learn his family still might move to the UK. "Things are getting better now, it's exciting," he said. "I really hope it turns out to be successful. We will see." He said his only knowledge of Britain comes from "pictures and videos and all those things."
Kamal's mother — Bashir's first wife — used to work as a hairdresser but the place she was working has gone out of business. She still does personal calls.
"My mom is doing my best to make my life easy," the teenager said. "She's not trying to make me feel [like I have] less rights or different clothes or not being able to do things that other people can do."
However, he did notice different rules applied to him than to the other children in his class when growing up. When he was in primary school Kamal took an exam which gave him a chance to take part in the Comenius exchange program — a precursor to the EU's Erasmus program.
It would have given him the opportunity to travel to France or Spain. Kamal passed the test, only to be told he wasn't allowed go because he didn't have the right papers. "It was kind of sad and then I got on with it," he said.
He also said he's experienced some racism, particularly when he was younger.
While speaking to VICE News, Kamal mentioned various countries he dreams of visiting in the future, including Japan.
He said his upbringing on the British military base was "great" because there were loads of people around and it was clean. In April 2004, the base's population peaked with 183 refugees, as family members and other asylum seekers came to stay. As the years passed though, Kamal explained, people began to leave and the Home Office became a lot stricter. "If you come and take a look now it's like a ghost town."
Kamal has never met his relatives who live in Ethiopia. "I want to see my mother's family, my dad's family too because I've never had the chance to be with my grandparents and all those things."
He believes his parents made the right decision to leave their home countries. "At that time there was a war in their own countries so they had no other choice but to move."
He said the people and the beaches are great in Cyprus. However, "the government is treating us really bad, that's how they treat immigrants, but most of the time it's 50-50, there are those who want you and there are those who don't accept you."
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The Cyprus refugee families are not the only asylum seekers to get stuck in limbo when attempting to escape conflict-stricken countries for a better life.
Last year VICE News wrote about a Syrian 11-year-old who was trapped in Casablanca airport while trying to enter Morocco with his father, who was married to a Moroccan citizen. In May 2015, a Palestinian man and his son got stuck in Dubai airport for two weeks after fleeing Syria.
Bashir's story is also a reminder that refugees were fleeing to Europe long before the current "migration crisis" began. So far in 2016, nearly 190,000 migrants and refugees have arrived in Europe, with more than 31,000 making it to Italy. Of those, 45 percent have been men, 20 percent women, and 35 percent children, with the majority coming from Syria, Afghanistan, and Iraq.
Follow Sally Hayden on Twitter: @sallyhayd