Police dismantled a criminal organization smuggling irregular migrants yesterday with the arrest of five people, while seven others are wanted. The identification and arrest of the suspects, all from Syria, followed information received at the Ministry of Interior, their analysis for three months, the surveillance of persons for over a month and the operation organized yesterday by the Police in Limassol.

This action, as announced by the Presidency of the Republic, is part of a review of the policy on Syrian nationals residing in Cyprus and smuggling irregular migrants. The ring appears to have had tentacles in Lebanon and Syria and directed its collaborators on how to smuggle migrants, most of them from Syria. As it was found, the ring operated in the triangle Cyprus – Lebanon – Syria pushing and exploiting Syrian irregular migrants in our country. It is estimated that this development will put a brake on a ring that sent irregular migrants almost daily via boats. The smugglers’ sea route started off the coast of Lebanon, where empty boats, mostly rotten boats, left and headed for the Syrian port of Tartus. There, after loading the irregular migrants, they were taken to the coast of Cape Greco. It is indicative that more than 45 boats with a large number of migrants arrived through this route in the last quarter. The authorities do not rule out dismantling other networks as they study various information on how migrants are trafficked and who directs them. According to “F” information, from testimonies of irregular migrants, testimonies and a check of mobile suspects, it emerged that smugglers both abroad and here acted identically, that is, they filled the boats with irregular migrants from the Syrian coast and not from Lebanon, in order to be considered as starting from there and the Republic of Cyprus could not return them.

Previously, migrants went to Lebanon and from there left for the Cypriot coast, since we had not concluded an agreement to return them to the neighboring country. It is noted that yesterday’s operation to dismantle the ring was based on data transmitted by the Information Exchange Group between Lebanon and Cyprus, which was set up after the recent trip of the Minister of Interior, Constantinos Ioannou, to Beirut, to deal with the increased migratory flows by sea. The information was assessed by the Aliens and Migration Service, which, in cooperation with officials of the Aliens and Migration Service, the ICF Headquarters and the YKAN, organized a special operation to identify and simultaneously arrest individuals allegedly operating as intermediaries or collaborators in a migrant smuggling network in Cyprus. According to “F” information, the arrested persons, who have been in Cyprus with subsidiary protection status for 2-3 years, allegedly found here people who wanted to bring their relatives to Cyprus and then coordinated their arrival through persons in Lebanon and Syria. When they got here, they were guided and then paid for the money they had agreed to. Yesterday, the five were brought before the Limassol District Court, which ordered their detention for eight days. Serious offences are being investigated against them, including the formation of a criminal organisation for the purpose of migrant smuggling. Since last June, there have been changes in the modus operandi of smugglers, to tackle which actions are taken at political, diplomatic, technocratic and operational levels. Due to the European embargo on contacts with the Assad government in Syria, the Republic of Cyprus focuses its efforts on Lebanon, where migrant smugglers, mainly Syrian nationals, appear to be operating and transporting them by fishing boats, endangering their lives. Following Constantine Ioannou’s recent contacts with the Lebanese government, it became possible to return several migrants from the neighbouring country. However, it is a question of tackling the smuggling rings. It is noted that at an operational level, measures are being taken to identify migrant smugglers, while actions are also being taken to exchange information between the co-competent European services and European organizations, such as EUROPOL. In fact, it has been decided not to encourage irregular arrivals of migrants, such as applicants for international protection, who have arrived in the Republic of Cyprus after 1/1/2023, not to be included in the lists of beneficiaries of candidates for the voluntary relocation scheme.

With this program, the Republic, through EU funds, gave an amount of 1,000-1,500 euros to irregular migrants to return voluntarily to their countries. The aim of changing this policy is that the relocation scheme does not become a pull factor for nationals of specific third countries, who may take advantage of it and use Cyprus as a transit station to other European countries. Policy review for Syrians For three months, the state services analyzed information about the ring that brought irregular migrants by sea to Cyprus. This is according to an announcement by the Presidency of the Republic, stressing that in the context of effectively addressing the migration problem and demonstrating zero tolerance of the phenomenon, as the President of the Republic has repeatedly underlined and following relevant instructions to all competent State Services, a coordinated operation to dismantle a criminal organization was carried out yesterday morning in the Limassol districtsmuggling of irregular migrants to Cyprus. During the operation, which involved about 40 police officers, five Syrian nationals were identified and arrested, detained as members of a criminal organization smuggling irregular migrants, and new arrests are expected on the basis of warrants already issued. The activity of this criminal organisation over the last three months has been based on an analysis of specific information. In the context of effectively addressing the migration problem, one of the main issues remains to tackle smugglers, who also endanger the lives of irregular migrants they attempt to transport to our country.

To this end, by decision of the Minister of Interior, a special group has been set up with terms of reference to examine a review of the policy concerning Syrian nationals who are already in the Republic of Cyprus and who are involved in smuggling networks of illegal immigrants, in order to prevent further flows. The Republic of Cyprus, within the framework of its international obligations, will continue to take and strengthen measures aimed at managing migration flows and preventing them. The situation in figures The situation this year is much better than last year, however, since last June our country has been flooded almost daily with irregular migrants coming by sea. According to data from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, 2021,12 irregular migrants arrived in the Republic of Cyprus in 391, while in 2022, 17,434 migrants. From the beginning of 2023 until this month, 6,258 irregular migrants arrived in Cyprus. Also, from August 1-15 this year, 464 people submitted asylum applications, while the residents of “Pournara” from 1,805 people on 21/08/2022, this year on the same day decreased to 892. Also, in July last year, 1,770 people applied for asylum compared to 900 this year.