Migrant smuggling is a global concern that deeply affects Cyprus and demands immediate attention, Justice Minister Anna Koukkides Procopiou told a conference in Larnaca.
The minister spoke at the three-day 18th CrimEx and 2nd EMJnet meeting of the Euromed Justice Program.
The meeting is attended by legal experts and professionals in Criminal Justice and delegates from various Mediterranean and EU countries.
Due to its proximity to Africa, the Middle East, and Southern Europe, the Mediterranean region has been a hotspot for people smuggling.
“Cyprus is a country deeply affected by this phenomenon, as it has become a hotspot and desired destination for illegal immigrants seeking asylum and a way into the European Union.
“The main reasons for this are the geographical location of Cyprus and its political situation, which make it an attractive initial landing point and an easy entry for illegal immigrants into the European Union,” said Procopiou.
She said organised criminal groups gather migrants from the Middle East and Africa into mainland Turkey, from where they are channelled into the government-controlled areas of Cyprus.
“This is achieved by transporting the immigrants through the occupied areas and facilitating them to cross the buffer zone into the free territories of the Republic and then apply for asylum from the authorities of the Republic.
“The obstacles encountered and the challenges faced by the police and judicial authorities in Cyprus for combating this crime type are immense.
“As a consequence, members of the organised criminal groups responsible for the smuggling of illegal immigrants evade capture.”
Procopiou said organised criminal gangs profited from people’s desperation and recalled tragic incidents, such as boats capsizing, leading to loss of life.
“Migrants, often driven by the hope for a better life, face perilous journeys across the sea with organised criminal groups that profit out of their desperation.”
Cyprus says it has a disproportionate number of asylum seekers (55,000) for its population than any other EU country.