Lebanon rescues Syrians in sinking migrant boat

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The Lebanese military on Saturday rescued 27 Syrian migrants from drowning after their rubber boat capsized off the country’s northern coast, the armed forces said.

The navy, with support from the civil defense, “was able to rescue 27 illegal migrants aboard a rubber boat that was sinking off the Chekka coast,” an army statement said.

A military official, who requested anonymity as he was not allowed to speak to the press, told AFP the migrants were all Syrian.

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Migrants seeking to reach Europe from Lebanon generally head for the east Mediterranean island of Cyprus 175 kilometers (110 miles) away.

Also on Saturday, security forces said they arrested a Lebanese people smuggler and 42 Syrians as he was in a vehicle “filled with a large number of Syrians.”

Police said the driver confessed planning to smuggle them by boat to Cyprus.

The would-be migrants said during questioning they had paid between $5,000 and $7,000 a head to reach Europe via Cyprus, the statement added.

“We have been trying to stop them on land before they leave by sea,” a security source told AFP, again requesting anonymity as he was not allowed to speak to journalists.

On Thursday, the army said it had prevented around 1,000 illegal crossings of Lebanon’s porous border with Syria this week.

The military regularly thwarts smuggling operations by sea and arrests both smugglers and would-be migrants.

Lebanon’s economy collapsed in late 2019, turning the country into a launchpad for migrants, with Lebanese joining Syrians and Palestinian refugees making perilous voyages toward Europe.

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

The war in Syria that erupted in 2011 after the government repressed peaceful pro-democracy protests has killed more than half a million people and displaced around half of the pre-war population.

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