The army said Monday it has foiled an attempt to smuggle 60 people, mostly from Syria, out of Lebanon, days after dozens of Syrians were caught trying to cross to Cyprus.
“A naval force unit stopped a boat detected by radar 10 nautical miles off the city of Tripoli” in northern Lebanon on Sunday, it said in a statement.
It said the vessel had been trying “to smuggle 60 people, 59 Syrians and one Lebanese”.
Their intended destination was not specified but neighbouring Cyprus is the most popular sea smuggling route.
On Saturday, Lebanese police said they stopped 51 Syrians who planned to make the crossing to Cyprus and had paid a smuggler $2,500 each.
The army has said it also stopped another 69 Syrians in the last week of April.
Security sources told AFP that the number of smuggling attempts has been on the rise since last month.
Lebanon, home to more than six million people, is just 160 kilometres (100 miles) from Cyprus.
As well as hosting more than one million refugees from war-torn Syria, Lebanon is grappling with its most severe economic crisis for decades.
Tens of thousands of people, including Syrian and Palestinian refugees, have lost their jobs or seen their income slashed since 2019.
Their plight has pushed many to attempt sea crossings to EU member Cyprus, which has struck a deal with Lebanon for its navy to intercept such bids.
Nicosia says Cyprus has become the EU’s frontline for managing migration and asylum from the eastern Mediterranean.
In March, the Council of Europe’s human rights commissioner, Dunja Mijatovic, called on “Cypriot authorities to ensure that independent and effective investigations are carried out into allegations of pushbacks and ill-treatment (of migrants) by members of security forces”.
She acknowledged sea crossings and arrivals pose considerable challenges for Cyprus, exacerbated by the Covid-19 pandemic, but stressed human rights obligations must be “respected.”