Lebanon thwarts attempt to smuggle 69 Syrians to Cyprus

BEIRUT (AP) — Lebanese troops aborted early Sunday an attempt to smuggle dozens of Syrian migrants to the Mediterranean island of Cyprus, the military said.

The attempt to smuggle 69 Syrian citizens comes as Lebanon is witnessing a severe economic and financial crisis that has thrown more people into poverty.

There have been attempts over the past year to smuggle migrants to European Union member Cyprus during which some of the migrants were killed. The Mediterranean island and Lebanon have an agreement to curb the arrival of boats loaded with migrants from reaching Cyprus.

The Lebanese army said in a statement that soldiers and members of the army intelligence thwarted the attempt in the northern district of Arida near the border with Syria. It added that the smuggler who took money from the migrants to take them to Cyprus has been arrested and is being questioned.

Last year, numerous boatloads of migrants sailed to Cyprus — approximately 107 miles (172 kilometers) from Tripoli, Lebanon — alarming Cypriot authorities that say the island can’t handle any more migrants seeking asylum for economic reasons.

Cyprus came under fire by Human Rights Watch last year for allegedly pushing back 200 migrants and refugees arriving from Lebanon aboard boats without heeding their claims for asylum while in some instances using violence and coercive tactics.

Lebanon, a tiny nation of six million people, including a million Syrian refugees, is passing through its worst economic crisis in its modern history.

The crisis that was made worse by coronavirus and a massive explosion at Beirut’s port last year, left tens of thousands of people jobless while the local currency has lost about 90% of its value.

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