Cyprus arrests five Syrians suspected over migrant trafficking
August 23, 2023 08:40 PM
Cypriot police on Wednesday arrested five Syrians in an operation seeking to crack down on illegal trafficking networks on the island, authorities said.
European Union member Cyprus argues it is a "frontline country" on the Mediterranean migrant route. Last year, according to EU data, it had the highest number of first-time asylum applications relative to population in the 27-member bloc.
President Nikos Christodoulides ordered a "coordinated operation to dismantle a criminal organisation trafficking irregular immigrants to Cyprus" in the southern coastal town of Limassol, a statement from the presidency said.
Five Syrian men were arrested during the operation, which was ordered to "effectively deal with the immigration problem and demonstrate zero tolerance of the phenomenon", it added.
The men were arrested on suspicion of being members of a "criminal organisation" trafficking irregular migrants.
It comes one day after a major police operation found dozens of migrants living in a condemned apartment complex near the resort city of Paphos, after protests by residents and allegations of electricity theft.
The presidency statement on Wednesday said authorities are expected to make more arrests, with warrants already issued.
"To effectively combat the immigration problem, one of the main demands remains the tackling the trafficking rings, which endanger the lives of the irregular immigrants," it added.
It pointed to a significant decline in the number of asylum seekers recently due to action against traffickers.
Authorities have ramped up efforts to return failed asylum seekers to their countries of origin.
Some 4,370 migrants have been returned this year, according to interior ministry figures -- already far higher than the total of 2,353 returned throughout 2022.
Since January 1, Cyprus has prevented migrants arriving on the island from applying for relocation to other EU countries in a bid to discourage new arrivals.
While the number of migrant arrivals has declined since last year, there has been a spike in arrivals by boat from war-ravaged Syria and crisis-hit Lebanon.