Deported Irish 'cult' pilgrims refused entry by Cypriots

Irish Independent/October 13, 1999
By Martha Kearns and Isabel Hurley

The Co Wexford pilgrimage group who were deported from Israel have been refused entry to Cyprus. Last night they were still looking for a port to drop anchor.

The 19 Irish citizens, along with six Romanians and a Colombian, were ordered out of Israel on Monday night after being branded as members of an extreme Christian group.

The Pilgrim House Foundation group from Castletown, Inch, Co Wexford, who were on a pilgrimage to the Holy Land, were put on the cruise ship Nisos Kypro to Greece via Cyprus but were not allowed to disembark with the other passengers when the ship docked at Limassol yesterday.

The group, which includes children and mentally handicapped adults, was due to arrive in Rhodes, Greece, at AM this morning. Their final stop will be at Piraeus, Greece tomorrow morning.

The Irish Ambassador to Israel, Brendan Scannell, yesterday asked the Israeli authorities to reconsider their decision. ``It's a big foul-up. They didn't have their travel documents in order but there are lots of gray areas. It's up to the Israeli authorities whether they will allow them back or not,'' he said from Tel Aviv.

Need a visa

EU visitors to Israel need a visa if they intend to stay for more than 90 days. The group were refused visas shortly before their trip but decided to travel anyway and stay for a shorter time. Speaking from the boat yesterday, Brother Nicholas Leahy, who has lived with the community for 4 years, accused the Israeli police of brutality. He claimed they had been jostled onto buses by policemen, one woman had her finger caught in a door, another man had been dragged by his hair and tie. Three women had been punched in the back, three men had been punched in the ribs.

Not giving up

He added that they still hoped to get to the Holy Land and were not giving up. Dr Dermot O'Leary, one of the group's leaders, said they were kept locked in a room on the ship until it left Haifa harbor. "It was all an extraordinary level of over-reaction. They refused to give us any explanation. at any time. We are members of a well-known Christian `cult' called the Roman Catholic Church which is very common in Ireland. We are Irish Catholics,'' he said.

The Israelis say they feared the group were extremists who planned to commit suicide with the advent of the millennium. Yesterday, Cyprus police spokesperson, Glafcos Xenos, said they were members of a cult and were barred from Cyprus because "they refused to reply to questions posed to them by immigration officials."

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