People smuggler gets harshest sentence

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Cyprus authorities are getting tough on migrant traffickers, with a local court slapping a five-year sentence on a smuggler who carried over 100 from Syria and Lebanon, the harshest penalty to date.

Another smuggler faces a tougher sentence with the additional charge of manslaughter, after a three year old baby girl, rescued together with about 60 others aboard a small boat off the coast of Cyprus, died on Thursday morning.

The harshest-ever five-year prison sentence was handed down to a 46-year-old man found guilty on Wednesday of illegal trafficking of migrants, the attorney general’s office said in a statement.

The Famagusta Criminal Court found the man guilty of assisting migrants in unlawfully entering the Republic’s territory for financial gain. The case involved 109 migrants arriving at Cape Greco by boat on October 28, 2023.

The court’s statement said that, “this prison term marks the most severe sentence ever imposed by Cypriot courts for such offenses, surpassing a three-year sentence issued in September 2023 for a similar charge related to profiting from the irregular entry of migrants”.

The convicted individual, admitting to the charges, faced four counts of locating illegal immigrants in the Republic of Cyprus’ territorial waters, assisting in their irregular entry for financial gain, legitimising income from illegal activities, and participating in a criminal organisation.

The statement said that these crimes were linked to an international ring engaged in migrant smuggling in Cyprus, implicating Syria and Lebanon.

Playing a significant role in the illegal sea transportation of irregular migrants to Cyprus, the 46-year-old facilitated payments ranging from €1,800 to €2,700 from each migrant.

The Famagusta court emphasised in its ruling that the convicted individual actively participated, for financial gain, in a structured group of migrant smugglers operating internationally.

On Thursday, another people smuggler, a 47-year-old man from Syria appeared before the same Famagusta criminal court and was remanded for eight days on similar charges, with the addition of manslaughter.

Cardiac arrest

He is considered responsible for the death of the three-year-old girl who suffered a cardiac arrest at the Makarios children’s hospital in Nicosia, while two other children are being monitored in critical condition in the ICU of the same hospital. One is her sister and the other is a five year old.

According to news site Philenews, the man was previously in Cyprus two years ago, applying for political asylum. However, he later travelled to Lebanon, and investigations are underway to determine if he is involved in a network of traffickers bringing migrants to Cyprus.

The ill-fated journey of the boat in question, started on January 18 from Lebanon, with police investigations revealing that the boat set sail without a compass, GPS, and other navigation tools, and with insufficient fuel.

Midway through the journey, according to migrants’ testimonies, the engine failed, leaving the boat adrift. The migrants said they had water, but no food with them.

Three more children, aged one to five, are in serious condition at Famagusta General Hospital, and one is undergoing treatment at Larnaca General Hospital. Four adults have also been hospitalised with leg fractures.