Five Syrians arrested in migrant trafficking crackdown

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Five Syrians were arrested Wednesday during a Cyprus police operation to smash people trafficking networks bringing irregular migrants to the Mediterranean island that has seen a spike in boat arrivals, officials said.

The government has made tackling illegal immigration a priority, with European Union member arguing it is a “frontline country” on the Mediterranean migrant route.

A Cypriot Presidency statement said Wednesday that to “effectively deal with the immigration problem and demonstrate zero tolerance of the phenomenon,” President Nikos Christodoulides ordered a “coordinated operation to dismantle a criminal organization trafficking irregular immigrants to Cyprus.”

It said 40 police officers participated in the swoop – in Limassol — where five Syrian men were arrested on suspicion of being members of a criminal organization trafficking irregular immigrants.

Authorities expect to make more arrests with warrants already issued.

“The activity of this criminal organization during the last three months was based on the analysis of specific information,” said the presidency.

“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 said that due to the actions taken, “asylum applications have decreased significantly recently.”

The move comes a 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.

Last year, according to EU data, it had the highest number of first-time asylum applications relative to population in the 27-member bloc.

Those numbers have fallen significantly, but there has been a spike in irregular migrants arriving by boat from Syria or Lebanon.

Over 200 Syrian migrants on several boats have arrived on the island in the past week.

To discourage arrivals, the government excludes migrants who arrived after January 1 from eligibility for relocation to another EU country.

Nicosia has ramped up migrant returns of failed asylum seekers this year, exceeding 4,370, significantly higher than in 2022, when they were 2,353.