Lebanese army arrests 64 people trying to sail to Europe

Lebanon’s deteriorating economy is pushing people to risk their lives sailing to Europe for a better life.

A man stands next to a boat near the sea
The number of people attempting to reach Europe from Lebanon is expected to increase over the summer [File: Ibrahim Chalhoub/AFP]

The Lebanese military has arrested 64 people trying to sail from northern Lebanon in an attempt to get to Europe, the army command has said.

According to an army statement, the would-be migrants – Lebanese, Syrians and Palestinians – were all detained on Tuesday and were being questioned, except for one pregnant woman who was bleeding and was taken to hospital.

The migrants were apparently taken into custody before their boat was able to set sail. They were apprehended near the Sheikh Znad area, a few kilometres from the northern city of Tripoli.

The attempt came weeks after a boat carrying more than 60 migrants capsized on April 23 off the coast of Tripoli, Lebanon’s second-largest city, and one of the country’s poorest.

Seven bodies were recovered in that disaster, with 47 people rescued and some still missing. Survivors at the time blamed the Lebanese navy for causing the accident by ramming into the migrants’ boat.

Lebanon is a small nation of 6 million people, including 1 million Syrian refugees. It is also home to tens of thousands of Palestinians, most of them descendants of people displaced after Israel was created in 1948.

Since an economic crisis began in late 2019, a growing number of Lebanese and Syrians are resorting to migration to Europe, with three-quarters of the country’s population living in poverty, fuel shortages forcing power plants to shut and the value of the currency plunging with no end in sight.

Migrants usually pay thousands of dollars for smugglers who promise to take them on boats to European Union member states such as Cyprus, Greece and Italy.

The United Nations refugee agency says at least 1,570 people, 186 of them Lebanese, left or tried to leave by sea from Lebanon between January and November 2021.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies