NICOSIA, Cyprus (AP) — Cyprus said Wednesday it has dismantled a criminal people-smuggling ring responsible for bringing in boatloads of Syrian migrants from Syria, Lebanon and Turkey. The island state in the eastern Mediterranean has seen migrant boats arrive almost daily in recent days.
Cypriot police said three months of investigation resulted in the arrest of five suspects after a combined force of 40 officers raided several homes in the island’s southeast.
A court in Cyprus ordered the detention of the suspects, all Syrian nationals, for eight days until police complete their investigation. The suspects are accused of being members of a criminal migrant smuggling organisation.
Police spokesman Christos Andreou told The Associated Press that seven more Syrians were wanted in connection with the ring, including the leader who allegedly fled abroad with another member of the ring.
Andreou said the police raid also found 44 Syrian migrants living in these homes, all of whom are asylum seekers or have been granted international protection status. The migrants will be interrogated and released if they are found not to belong to the same group, Andreou said.
It was not immediately clear whether the arrested suspects had legal representation. Andreou said they could apply for legal aid and have a public defender appointed at any time, but he didn’t know on Wednesday if that had happened.
The arrests come as Cypriot authorities rescued 142 Syrian migrants aboard four separate boats for four consecutive days this week.
The Cypriot Interior Ministry had noted an increase in the number of arrivals of Syrian migrants by sea in recent months, although asylum applications have fallen significantly due to government measures to discourage such arrivals, especially from sub-Saharan Africa.
According to official figures, asylum applications in June and July this year together amounted to 1,285 – less than a third compared to the same period last year.
A newly formed group comprising members of the Asylum Service, the Migration Department and the Ministry of Labor has been tasked with reviewing policies regarding Syrian nationals living in Cyprus found to be involved in migrant smuggling gangs “to curb further influxes.” shocked,” said one government. statement said.
To discourage the arrival of more migrants, the Cypriot government has decided to exclude migrants who arrived after 1 January from moving to another EU country.
“The Republic of Cyprus, within its international obligations, will continue to take and strengthen measures aimed at containing and deterring the migration flow,” the government statement said.
Police said other human trafficking gangs may continue to operate in Cyprus.
Follow AP’s global migration coverage at https://apnews.com/hub/migration