Cyprus police arrested five Syrians on suspicion of people trafficking after a police patrol boat plucked them and 32 of their compatriots from the sea when their rickety boats sank close to the island’s southeastern tip.
Police said 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 arrested after witnesses said they were in charge of their transport to Cyprus.
One of the five had previously been deported.
Migrant arrivals to Cyprus from Syria and elsewhere to seek asylum continue in large numbers, mostly through the divided island’s Turkish-occupied north.
The number of asylum-seekers in the first half of this year was 12,000 — equal to the number for all last year.
The government said asylum-seekers comprise an EU high of 5% of the island’s 915,000 people in the Republic.
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 2022, equaling the tally for 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. (Source AP)