NICOSIA, Cyprus — A Cyprus court on Saturday ordered the detention for six days of a Syrian man suspected of illegally bringing 21 Syrian migrants to the east Mediterranean island nation aboard a boat.
Police said the suspect was arrested after the migrants identified him as the captain of the small boat that had departed from Tartus, Syria. A Cyprus police patrol vessel intercepted the boat off the island’s southeastern tip.
The migrants, who include two women and six children aged between 2 and 10, were taken to a reception center on the outskirts of the capital, Nicosia.
Cyprus authorities say the island is among the European Union member countries with the highest per-capita number of asylum-seekers.
Cyprus is among the most vocal proponents for an EU-wide migration policy that would include all bloc members taking in a designated number of asylum-seekers and expedited repatriations for migrants whose asylum applications have been rejected.
Outgoing Cypriot Interior Minister Nicos Nouris told a migration conference in Athens this week that the bloc also needs to introduce checks on migrant departures in third countries and punish people-traffickers.
The overwhelming majority of migrants who seek asylum in Cyprus enter the ethnically divided island through its breakaway Turkish Cypriot north and cross a United Nations controlled buffer zone to apply in the internationally controlled south.
Cyprus says it leads the EU in the number of repatriations of migrants whose asylum claims have been rejected. According to official statistics, some 1,172 repatriations took place in January, an almost five-fold increase from the same time last year.
Some 7,600 migrants were repatriated in all of 2022.