Lebanese army blocks 700 Syrians crossing border amid protests, economic turmoil

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The Lebanese army turned away around 700 Syrians attempting to cross into the neighboring country illegally over the past week, the armed forces said in a statement on Wednesday.

The attempted influx coincides with days of rare protest in Syria’s southern city of Sweida, as dire living conditions stoke discontent in regime-held areas.

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Millions of Syrians have already fled abroad since Syria’s war began in 2011 following the government’s repression of peaceful pro-democracy protests.

Lebanon’s army “prevented, over several days this past week, about 700 Syrians from crossing the Lebanese-Syrian border,” the Lebanese armed forces statement said.

A security official told AFP that deteriorating economic conditions in Syria had pushed more people to flee their homeland, with many hoping to reach Europe. The official couldn’t give data to illustrate the increase, and it was not clear where along the border the migrants were blocked.

Syrians are fleeing “because of the economic situation, because the Syrian pound has further collapsed,” he said, on condition of anonymity because he was not allowed to speak to the press.

Syria’s 12-year conflict has ravaged the country’s infrastructure and industry, the Syrian pound has lost most of its value against the dollar, and most of the population has been pushed into poverty.

“Some hope to find work here in Lebanon, but many are hoping to flee to Europe,” the source added.

The protests by hundreds in Syria erupted after the government lifted fuel subsidies last week, dealing a blow to people already struggling with the war’s heavy economic toll.

On August 12, Lebanon’s army said it arrested 134 migrants, most of them Syrians, near the northern border with Syria after foiling their attempt to take a boat to Europe.

The same day, the armed forces said they had arrested 150 Syrians who had crossed into Lebanon illegally in the same province of Akkar.

Lebanon’s own economic collapse has turned it into a launchpad for migrants. Lebanese are joining Syrian and Palestinian refugees clamouring to leave by taking dangerous sea routes.

Authorities say Lebanon currently hosts around two million Syrians, while more than 800,000 are registered with the United Nations -- the highest number of refugees per capita in the world.

Migrants departing from Lebanon head for Europe, with one of the main destinations Cyprus, only 175 kilometres (110 miles) away.

Syria’s war has killed more than half a million people and forced around half the country’s pre-war population from their homes.

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