NICOSIA, Cyprus (AP) — Cyprus police have arrested five Syrians on suspicion of people trafficking after a police patrol boat plucked them and 32 of their countrymen from the sea when their rickety boats sank close to the island’s southeastern tip.
Police say the five men aged 46-53 face numerous charges including helping third-country citizens to illegally enter Cyprus for financial gain and transporting people on unsafe craft.
Police spokesman Christos Andreou told state-run Cyprus News Agency that the 37 Syrians — who included seven minors — were collected from the sea early Thursday.
Andreou said the five were placed under arrest after witnesses said they were in charge of their transport to Cyprus. One of the five had previously been deported from the east Mediterranean island nation.
Migrant arrivals to Cyprus from Syria and elsewhere to seek asylum continue in large numbers, mostly through the ethnically divided island nation’s breakaway Turkish Cypriot north.
European Union member Cyprus says the number of asylum-seekers in the first half of this year amounted to 12,000 — equal to the number for all of last year. It says asylum-seekers make up an EU high of 5% of the island’s 915,000 people in the internationally recognized south.
Cypriot law enforcement authorities have been stepping up arrests relating to people trafficking.
According to police statistics, 50 people have been arrested in Cyprus on people trafficking charges in 30 separate cases through the first seven months of this year, about equaling the tallies for all of 2021.
So far this year, 3,459 migrants who had their asylum applications rejected by Cyprus have either been deported or voluntarily repatriated. This year, four people have been sentenced to between three and 10 months in prison for assisting in the illegal entry of others.