Lebanon army says thwarts fresh migrant trafficking attempt

BEIRUT (AP) — Lebanon’s military on Friday said it has detained five people in the northern city of Tripoli as they prepared to smuggle 85 migrants by boat to Europe.

The announcement came days after a boat carrying more than 60 migrants capsized on April 23 off the coast of Tripoli. Seven bodies were recovered, with 47 people rescued and the others still missing. Survivors blamed the Lebanese navy of causing the accident by ramming into the boat.

For years, Lebanon had been a country that hosted refugees. But since the country’s economic meltdown began in October 2019, hundreds of people have attempted a perilous sea journey to Europe to seek a better life. Several have drowned on the way, and hundreds have reached their destination.

Tripoli is Lebanon’s second largest and most impoverished city. Lebanon, a nation of 6 million people, including 1 million Syrian refugees, is in the grip of a historic economic and financial crisis rooted in decades of corruption and mismanagement by the country’s ruling class.

The army said the smugglers were detained late Thursday as they were preparing to send 85 people on a boat after collecting a total of $400,000 from them. The boat was confiscated in a sea resort in the country’s north, it added, and the detentions are being questioned.

On Tuesday, Lebanon’s government tasked the military judiciary with investigating last week’s deadly sinking of the migrant boat.

Search and rescue efforts were still underway to locate those still unaccounted for since last weekend’s incident.

Survivors have accused the Lebanese navy of deliberately ramming the vessel while trying to force it back to shore. Lebanese officials have blamed reckless smugglers for deliberately overloading the boat and eschewing safety precautions.

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