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2 Lebanese men ordered detained for bringing 146 Syrian refugees to Cyprus by boat

FILE - Cyprus' President Nikos Christodoulides and German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier talk to the media during a press conference at the Presidential palace in Nicosia, Cyprus, on Feb. 12, 2024. A court in Cyprus on Saturday Feb. 24, 2024 ordered that two men remain in police custody for six days on suspicion of people smuggling after being identified as the drivers of two boats which brought 146 Syrian refugees and one Lebanese migrant to the east Mediterranean island nation. Christodoulides said earlier this month that the EU won鈥檛 serve its own best interests if it doesn鈥檛 consider designating some parts of Syria as safe zones so refugees and migrants can return there. (AP Photo/Petros Karadjias, Pool, File)

FILE - Cyprus鈥 President Nikos Christodoulides and German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier talk to the media during a press conference at the Presidential palace in Nicosia, Cyprus, on Feb. 12, 2024. A court in Cyprus on Saturday Feb. 24, 2024 ordered that two men remain in police custody for six days on suspicion of people smuggling after being identified as the drivers of two boats which brought 146 Syrian refugees and one Lebanese migrant to the east Mediterranean island nation. Christodoulides said earlier this month that the EU won鈥檛 serve its own best interests if it doesn鈥檛 consider designating some parts of Syria as safe zones so refugees and migrants can return there. (AP Photo/Petros Karadjias, Pool, File)

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NICOSIA, Cyprus (AP) 鈥 A court in Cyprus on Saturday ordered two men to remain in police custody for six days on suspicion of people smuggling. The men were identified as the drivers of two boats that brought 146 Syrian refugees and one Lebanese migrant to the east Mediterranean island nation.

Police said the suspects are Lebanese nationals aged 19 and 21.

According to police, the refugees said during questioning that they departed from the Lebanese city of Tripoli on Thursday, Feb. 22 and each paid $2,500 for a place aboard the boats.

One boat carried 30 people, including 6 women and 11 minors. Aboard the second boat were 117 people, including 8 women and 17 minors. Police spotted both vessels Saturday afternoon off Cape Greco on the island鈥檚 southeastern tip.

All the migrants were escorted ashore and later taken to a migrant reception center just outside the capital Nicosia.

The President of Cyprus said earlier this month that the European Union won鈥檛 serve its own best interests if it doesn鈥檛 consider designating some parts of Syria as safe zones so refugees and migrants can return there.

President Nikos Christodoulides said Cyprus is working with like-minded EU member nations to start a discussion about that goal to help alleviate the pressure that Mediterranean countries receiving the most refugees and migrants are under.

Interior Minister Constantinos Ioannou told the state broadcaster Saturday that Cypriot authorities have reached out to Europol to help patrol the Lebanese coastline to prevent migrant departures.

Although 37% fewer migrants reached Cyprus last year compared to the year before, official figures show migrant arrivals by boat from Syria and Lebanon increased 355% 鈥 4,259 in 2023 as compared to 937 in 2022.

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Follow AP鈥檚 global migration coverage at /hub/migration