NICOSIA, Cyprus (AP) — Police in Cyprus said Tuesday they had arrested 10 Syrian men in an operation that has dismantled the third people smuggling ring bringing migrants to the east Mediterranean island nation in as many months.
The arrests come as Cypriot authorities say “several hundred” Syrian migrants have gathered near Lebanese shores, possibly preparing to set sail for Cyprus and other European countries.
The operation was centered in the southwestern district of Paphos, where a combined force of 130 officers carried out 17 search warrants, arresting 10 suspects while five others were being sought, police spokesman Christos Andreou told The Associated Press.
Around 160,000 euros ($170,000) in cash was found in the possession of one of the suspects.
Police said the ring operated since June 2019. The suspects face charges including conspiracy, participation in a criminal organization and people smuggling.
The latest arrests brings to 22 the number of people suspected of being part of smuggling rings. Government spokesman Constantinos Letymbiotis said Tuesday that this affirms the Cypriot government’s “zero tolerance” on people smuggling.
According to police, 7,914 migrants illegally reached Cyprus from the beginning of the year until mid-October, while 8,694 where either deported, voluntarily left or relocated to other European Union countries.
Cyprus’ interior minister, Constantinos Ioannou, said Tuesday that authorities were prepared to receive arriving Syrian migrants from Lebanon if the crisis in Gaza expands, adding that he expects the EU to offer material and monetary assistance, given Cyprus’ limited resources.
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