Lebanon blocks migrants attempting sea crossing

The Lebanese army on Tuesday prevented a group of Syrians and their Lebanese handlers from illicitly leaving the country by sea from the northern city of Tripoli, the official ANI news agency reported.

“A Lebanese army naval patrol, in coordination with army intelligence, thwarted an operation to smuggle several people across the sea after the boat was spotted off the northern coast,” ANI reported.

The Lebanese and Syrian passengers were returned to Tripoli port, it said.

It was the second failed clandestine attempt within days by people seeking to leave the country via Tripoli.

On Saturday, a boat illegally transporting Lebanese and Syrians was intercepted off the coast of Cyprus to the west, and forced to turn back.

On Monday, Cyprus said it would send a team to Lebanon to discuss dealing with the increasingly frequent crossing attempts.

Cyprus, just 160 kilometres (100 miles) from Lebanon’s coast, is so close that the deadly explosion that devastated Beirut on August 4 was heard on the island.

It fears becoming a magnet for those fleeing a political and economic crisis

Cyprus is on alert after at least five boats carrying over 150 migrants were spotted off the coast of the tourist island by authorities in recent days, and the interior ministry held an emergency meeting on the situation on Monday.

Lebanon, which hosts around a million people displaced from neighbouring wartorn Syria, was undergoing a severe economic crisis even before the coronavirus pandemic struck.

That was exacerbated by the massive August 4 explosion at Beirut port which laid waste to whole neighbourhoods of the capital and killed over 190 people.

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