Police believe they have uncovered a second migrant trafficking network, following an islandwide operation in which five Syrians were detained.
According to police sources, the latest operation has only revealed the tip of the iceberg, as evidence points to another trafficking ring.
The same sources said the network is bringing Syrian refugees from Lebanon in the same manner as the previous ring, for payment ranging from €2,000 to €3,500 for each migrant.
The five suspects arrested are of Syrian origin, currently legally on the island as asylum seekers or under temporary international protection, with connections in Syria and Lebanon.
They were placed under surveillance following information from the Lebanese Interior Ministry.
From the analysis of information and data, evidence emerged that they were involved in the trafficking of irregular migrants.
The five were remanded in custody on suspicion of forming and participating in a criminal organisation for eight days on Thursday.
The police are looking for another seven people to facilitate the investigations while seeking court orders to go through suspects’ bank accounts and telecommunication data.
Authorities will also talk to 44 migrants found in houses linked to the suspects arrested.
They will be called in and questioned, with officers seeking to find out how they arrived on the island and their connection with the suspected smugglers.
According to testimonies, most irregular migrants boarded boats from Tartus, Syria, and are usually located off Cape Greco.
The boats set sail from Lebanon to pick up migrants from Syria’s coasts.
Despite a drop in asylum seekers, the increase in irregular migrants arriving by sea has authorities on their toes.
There has been a rise in migrants arriving by boat, with a more than 60% increase recorded in the first seven months of the year, compared to the same period last year.
Just in the last three months, according to police data, more than 500 migrants arrived at the island on 45 small fishing boats or inflatable dinghies. The vast majority were refugees from Syria.
But the number of migrants applying for asylum dropped by 53% in the past five months, according to data provided by the Interior Ministry.
Some 10,625 people had applied for asylum from March 2022 to July 2022, compared to 4,976 in the same period this year.
However, the latest challenge appears to be dealing with human smuggling rings.
On the initiative of the Minister of the Interior, a special unit has been established by the Asylum Service, the Migration Department, and the Labour Ministry.
One of the unit’s objectives is properly managing Syrian migrants already in Cyprus and preventing further flows from Syria.
After recent contacts made by Interior Minister Ioannou with the government of Lebanon, Cyprus also achieved a deal for closer cooperation in returning migrants setting off from the neighbouring country.
This has helped to double returns from March to July from 2,323 in 2022.
Cyprus is looking to increase penalties for people involved in migrant trafficking, as the maximum sentence imposed by a Cypriot court was 24 months.