NICOSIA, Cyprus — Cyprus police on Friday detained two men on suspicion of helping two dozen Syrian asylum-seekers reach the east Mediterranean island nation aboard a rigid-hulled inflatable boat.
A court ordered the two men — aged 30 and 28 — held in police custody for eight days following their arrest a day earlier when the boat reached a small harbor on the island’s northeastern coast under escort by a police patrol vessel.
Police said the younger of the two men is suspected to be the boat’s driver. Both face charges including aiding and abetting in the unlawful entry of migrants into the European Union member country.
Police said authorities are processing the asylum requests for the 18 men, two women and six children.
Government officials say 5% of Cyprus’ current population are asylum-seekers — five times the EU average — and the country has the highest number of asylum applications per capita among the bloc’s 27 nations.
The vast majority of migrants reach Cyprus from the ethnically split island’s breakaway Turkish Cypriot north and traverse a United Nations-controlled buffer zone to seek asylum in the internationally recognized south.