Cyprus arrests suspected smugglers after dozens of boat migrants land

NICOSIA, Cyprus (AP) — Cypriot police on Friday arrested two men suspected of helping two dozen Syrian asylum seekers reach the eastern Mediterranean island nation aboard a rigid-hulled inflatable boat.

A court has ordered the pair – aged 30 and 28 – to be held in police custody for eight days after they were arrested the day before when the boat reached a small port on the island’s northeast coast under escort by a police patrolman.

According to the police, the younger of the two men is suspected of being the driver of the boat. Both are accused of aiding and abetting the illegal entry of migrants into the European Union member country.

Police said authorities were processing the asylum claims of the 18 men, two women and six children.

Government officials say 5% of Cyprus’s 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 arrive in Cyprus from the breakaway Turkish Cypriot north of the island and pass through a UN-monitored buffer zone to seek asylum in the internationally recognized south.

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