The migrants were travelling in an overcrowded boat. They were towed ashore Monday. According to Cyprus police, most of them were from Syria. Two Syrian men suspected of people smuggling were arrested.
The boat with 129 Syrians, one Lebanese and an Egyptian on
board was located five nautical miles off the northwestern coast of Cyprus when
it was spotted by a patrol vessel. It was brought to the harbor of Latchi, a
small town in the Greek-administered part of the island Cyprus.
The migrants, including five women and eight children, were to be transferred to a reception center outside the capital Nicosia.
Police said they believe the boat set off from Turkey, a route
used by people smugglers in the past. At its closest distance, the northern
coastline of Cyprus is just 40 miles (65 kilometers) from Turkey’s southern
According to the Cyprus News Agency, the migrants told police they had paid smugglers $2,000 each to bring them to the island. The captain of the boat reportedly took off on a speedboat once they neared the island.
Two Syrian men, aged 33 and 43, who were seen on a speed boat in the same waters as the migrant vessel, were arrested for questioning, the Associated Press reports. The Cypriot news outlet Financial Mirror reported on Twitter that the men were to appear in court Tuesday.
The island of Cyprus is located around 100 miles (160 kilometers) from the Syrian coast in the eastern Mediterranean. Although the island has not seen the same kind of inflow of refugees and migrants as Greece or Turkey, the small EU member state has become a more frequented destination in recent years.
The number of first-time asylum applications filed in Cyprus rose from 730 people at the beginning of 2017 to more than 3,000 at the beginning of 2019. According to the most recent data available, the number of migrants arriving in Cyprus and applying for asylum between January and June 2019 reached nearly 7,000. Meanwhile, the backlog of applications awaiting examination has increased to 15,000.
In August, Cyprus requested that fellow EU member states take in 5,000 of its migrants to alleviate the "disproportionate pressures" it faced. A response is still pending.