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Lebanon thwarts attempt to smuggle 51 Syrians to neighboring Cyprus

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Lebanese police said Saturday they had thwarted an attempt to smuggle 51 Syrians to neighboring Cyprus, weeks after the army foiled a similar operation.

“On May 4th 2021, the Internal Security Force’s information branch stopped 51 Syrian nationals, including 39 men, five women and seven minors, who were heading to Cyprus by sea,” said a police statement.

It said they were stopped while waiting along Lebanon’s northern coast after paying a smuggler $2,500 each for the trip.

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Lebanon, home to more than six million people, is just 160 kilometers (100 miles) from Cyprus.

As well as hosting more than one million refugees from war-torn neighboring Syria, Lebanon is grappling with its most severe economic crisis since its own 1975-1990 civil war.

Tens of thousands of people, including Syrian and Palestinian refugees, have lost their jobs or seen their income slashed amid sharp inflation since 2019.

That has pushed many to attempt illicit sea crossings to European Union member Cyprus in recent months.

Nicosia last summer sent a team to Beirut to help authorities stop migrants from fleeing, after several boats arrived from the northern Lebanese coast carrying Syrian, Palestinian and Lebanese nationals.

The latest smuggling attempt comes weeks after the army said it had stopped 69 Syrians in the northern region of Akkar and arrested the smuggler who was planning to take them to Cyprus.

In March, Europe’s top human rights body urged Cyprus to investigate allegations of ill-treatment of migrants arriving by boat from Lebanon last September.

The Council of Europe’s human rights commissioner Dunja Mijatovic cited reports that “boats carrying migrants, including persons who may be in need of international protection, have been prevented from disembarking in Cyprus, and summarily returned, sometimes violently.”

Nicosia insists it respected the law.

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