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Lebanon army arrests 134 Europe-bound migrants

BEIRUT: The Lebanese army arrested 134 migrants near the northern border with Syria on Saturday after foiling their attempt to take a boat to Europe, it said in a statement.
The group of would-be migrants — made up of 130 Syrians and four Lebanese nationals — were taken into custody in the coastal town of Sheikh Zennad, in Akkar province, the army statement said.
The army said it also detained “the mastermind behind the operation” who was a Lebanese national.
In a separate statement, Lebanese armed forces said they had arrested 150 Syrians who had crossed into Lebanon illegally in another part of Akkar province.


Migrants departing from Lebanon head for Europe, with one of the main destinations being Cyprus, only 175 km away.

Lebanon is mired in what the World Bank describes as one of the worst economic crises in modern history.
The economic collapse has turned the country into a launchpad for migrants, with its own citizens joining Syrian and Palestinian refugees clamoring 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 UN — the highest number of refugees per capita in the world.
Migrants departing from Lebanon head for Europe, with one of the main destinations being Cyprus, only 175 km away.
In September 2022, at least 100 bodies were recovered after a boat carrying migrants from Lebanon sank off Syria’s coast.
In December 2022, two migrants died and around 200 were rescued when their boat sank off Lebanon’s northern coast.
The arrests were reported as French authorities said six people died after a migrant boat trying to cross the Channel from France capsized early on Saturday, with another two people possibly missing.
Nearly 60 migrants were saved by French and UK rescue boats and brought to French or British shores and search and rescue operations were ongoing, the maritime prefecture said.
Local mayor Franck Dhersin said a vast rescue operation had been launched around 6 a.m. (0400 GMT) as dozens of migrant boats tried to make the crossing at the same time.
“Several of the boats were facing serious difficulties,” he told Reuters. “Near (the coastal town of) Sangatte they unfortunately found dead bodies.”
The Channel between France and Britain is one of the world’s busiest shipping lanes and currents are strong, making the crossing on small boats dangerous.
People smugglers typically overload rickety dinghies, leaving them barely afloat and at risk of being lashed by the waves as they try to reach British shores.
Anne Thorel, a volunteer who was on one of the rescue boats, described the migrants’ frantic efforts to bail water out of their sinking vessel using their shoes.
“There were too many of them on the (migrant) boat,” she told Reuters by phone as she returned to the shore.
Britain’s coast guard said it sent a lifeboat from Dover to assist with the Channel rescue, along with a coast guard rescue team and ambulance staff.
A UK Border Force vessel and two lifeboats helped rescue all those on board another small boat in the Channel in a separate incident on Saturday, the British coast guard added.
Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s government has spent the week making announcements about its efforts to reduce the number of asylum seekers, hoping to win support from voters as the ruling Conservative Party trails in opinion polls.
UK government figures show that the number of migrant Channel crossings so far this year stands at nearly 16,000.
In November 2021, 27 migrants died when their dinghy deflated as they tried to cross the Channel.
The accident was the worst accident on record involving migrants in the narrow seaway separating the two countries.
There are more frequent, deadlier disasters in the Mediterranean, where a charity rescue ship rescued 76 migrants on an overloaded wooden boat on Saturday. More than 22,000 people have died or gone missing in its waters since 2014, according to the International Organization for Migration.=

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