A 37-year-old Syrian national and resident of Cyprus was on Thursday remanded in custody for eight days on suspicion of being the local facilitator for a group of Syrian migrants smuggled here from Mersin, Turkey.
The remand hearing was held at Paphos general hospital, as the 37-year-old had broken his leg while trying to escape police around midnight on Tuesday, when authorities were alerted to a boat landing at the Pyrgos Tyllyrias area in the north of the island.
The man, a Syrian, resides legally in Cyprus. Police believe he was part of the onshore welcoming party. Authorities found on his person a residency permit, which they are investigating.
During the remand hearing, the man’s attorney argued that the residency permit belongs to his spouse. The attorney also questioned the police claim that the 37-year-old was seen holding a flashlight on the night in question.
The alleged Syrian facilitator is suspected of aiding and abetting illegal migrants to enter the territory of the Republic, people smuggling, and transporting people via an illegal port of entry.
He has yet to be interrogated due to the fact he is convalescing from surgery.
The boat’s landing site is located between the Turkish-occupied north of Cyprus and Kokkina, an enclave to the west that serves as a military facility for the Turkish forces.
Four of the people on the speedboat from Mersin have been transferred to the Kofinou reception centre as they requested asylum.
Meanwhile deportation procedures will commence for four others, who were identified to have been deported from Cyprus in the past after having gained illegal entry.
That court hearing has been scheduled for August 17.
All of them told police that they paid the smugglers some $2000 for the boat ride to Cyprus.
Police are seeking seven more persons, believed to have been on the boat but who on landing ashore were whisked into a black Mercedes, which sped off headed toward Paphos.
The seven are believed to include three women and four children.
To date police have been unable to track down the Mercedes.
Earlier in the week, a local community leader had called for increased marine patrols in the Tyllyria area to prevent the disembarking of irregular migrants.
He called for the police coastguard to permanently station a vessel at the Kato Pyrgos fishing reserve.
But speaking at a news conference on Thursday, Justice Minister Ionas Nicolaou said it was not possible to deploy a police marine patrol to each and every fishing reserve.
Such a move would do little good, he said, as the police vessels have limited range and in any case, what is crucial in interdicting people-smuggling operations is intelligence.
Nicolaou said a police vessel is currently stationed at Latsi, and can therefore also cover the Tyllyria area.
Asked whether the EU-Turkey refugee deal applies to Cyprus as well, the minister said the interior ministry was looking into this.
“First we need to establish– as our information suggests– that these people are indeed Syrians who fled their country. These instances are examined on a case-by-case basis, and wherever people file for political asylum.
“If no asylum applications are filed, we shall try to redirect these people with the mechanism recently implemented, and to the degree it is in operation following the latest developments in Turkey.”
Under the EU-Turkey refugee deal, struck before the recent coup attempt in Turkey, all new irregular migrants crossing from Turkey into Greek islands as from 20 March 2016 will be returned to Turkey.
The deal states that all migrants will be protected in accordance with the relevant international standards and in respect of the principle of non-refoulement (the prohibition against returning asylum seekers to a country where they risk persecution).
Migrants arriving in the Greek islands will be duly registered and any application for asylum will be processed individually by Greek authorities in accordance with the Asylum Procedures Directive, in cooperation with UNHCR. Migrants not applying for asylum or whose application has been found unfounded or inadmissible in accordance with the said directive will be returned to Turkey.