NICOSIA – Cypriot police said they arrested the 49-year-old driver of a boat that brought 61 Syrian refugees to the island, fleeing the long-running civil war in their country that has seen most first head to Turkey and then sent by human traffickers to Greek islands.
Police spokesman Andreas Angelides said the man suspected of people trafficking will appear in court for a remand hearing on June 21.
He was arrested after trying to evade police by jumping off the boat into the sea off the island’s northwestern coast, where the vessel landed late June 13.
The migrants, including seven boys and one woman, are being transferred to a migrant shelter facility outside the capital, Nicosia.
The boat is believed to have set sail from Antalya, Turkey. Each migrant paid $2,000-3,000 for a place on the vessel.
Turkey is letting smugglers operate during a suspended swap deal with the European Union that has seen Greece flooded and now holding more than 64,000 refugees and migrants, including 15,000 on islands near Turkey.
Sources told the Chinese news agency Xinhua the authorities had information that more refugees are waiting for a boat to make the sea crossing as the weather in the Aegean calms with summer coming, which could mean another influx for Cyprus.
Nicos Cleanthous, the community leader of Kato Pyrgos where the refugees were originally received, said he was told more vessels with Syrian refugees will arrive in Cyprus.
Cypriot police said that they sent a launch out at sea to escort the boat to port after it was picked up on radar several nautical miles off the northwestern coast of the island. On board were seven minors and a young woman who said that she would join her husband who arrived in Cyprus in the same way last year.
The majority of the men on board were under the age of 40. When the police approached the refugee vessel, a 49-year-old man jumped from the boat and tried to swim away, the report said.
He was picked out of the sea and based on evidence provided by refugees, he was arrested on suspicion that he was the trafficker.
FILE – This June 12, 2018 photo released Wednesday, June 13, 2018 by French NGO “SOS Mediterranee” shows migrants being transferred from the Aquarius ship to Italian Coast Guard boats, in the Mediterranean Sea. (Kenny Karpov/SOS Mediterranee via AP)