IDF detains Sudanese migrant who crossed into Israel from Lebanon
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IDF detains Sudanese migrant who crossed into Israel from Lebanon

As Lebanese financial crisis worsens, laid-off foreign workers increasingly seek employment in the Jewish state

Judah Ari Gross is The Times of Israel's military correspondent.

In this photo taken near Kibbutz Misgav Am, Lebanese soldiers and UNIFIL peacekeepers watch from the southern Lebanese village of Adaisseh as IDF Merkava tanks take part in routine maneuvers near the border demarcation line, June 2, 2020. (Jalaa Marey/AFP)
In this photo taken near Kibbutz Misgav Am, Lebanese soldiers and UNIFIL peacekeepers watch from the southern Lebanese village of Adaisseh as IDF Merkava tanks take part in routine maneuvers near the border demarcation line, June 2, 2020. (Jalaa Marey/AFP)

Israeli troops detained a man who crossed into Israel from southern Lebanon Wednesday morning, the Israel Defense Forces said.

The Sudanese migrant appeared to be coming to the Jewish state in search of work in light of the ongoing Lebanese economic crisis, which has left many of the country’s foreign workers unemployed or underpaid.

“This morning, a suspect was seen crossing from Lebanese territory into Israeli territory. The suspect was arrested by IDF troops,” the military said in a statement.

According to local officials, the incident occurred near the Israeli border town of Shlomi.

The man arrested on Wednesday was the latest such migrant worker to try to enter Israel from Lebanon in recent weeks.

Lebanon’s unprecedented foreign currency crisis means that many migrants have not been paid for months while some salaries was cut by more than half. Others have lost their jobs after employers dumped them on the streets or outside their home country’s embassies.

“We are invisible,” Banchi Yimer, an Ethiopian former domestic worker who founded a group that campaigns for domestic workers’ rights in Lebanon, told the AP. “We don’t even exist for our governments, not just the Lebanese government.”

An Ethiopian domestic worker cries as she waits with dozens of others outside the Ethiopian consulate, some inquiring about flights home, others stranded after they were abandoned by employers who claimed they could no longer afford to pay their salaries in Beirut, Lebanon, on June 4, 2020. (AP Photo/Hassan Ammar)

The coronavirus pandemic has set back a Lebanese economy already devastated by a financial crisis brought on by decades of corruption and mismanagement. In recent months, the Lebanese pound, pegged to the dollar for more than two decades, has lost 60% of its value against the dollar and prices of basic goods soared. Unemployment has risen to 35% and an estimated 45% of the country’s population is now below the poverty line.

In light of this ongoing crisis, some migrant workers have sought employment in Israel, one of two countries with which Lebanon shares a land border, the other being war-torn Syria.

Last month, Israeli troops apprehended three such suspects caught trying to cross from Lebanon into Israel, the IDF said at the time.

“IDF troops were present at the scene and monitored the suspects, who were apprehended during their attempt to cross the security fence. The incident does not appear to be an attempted terror attack,” the military’s statement said.

The military has warned of growing instability on the frontier with a rise in smuggling efforts — both guns and drugs — in recent months, along with migrant workers crossing the border. The IDF says there have also been cases of Hezbollah using local shepherds in southern Lebanon to perform reconnaissance along the border.

On May 17, one such shepherd entered the area of Har Dov, or Shebaa Farms — a disputed region along the Israeli-Lebanese border under Israeli control — with a walkie-talkie as he was apparently performing surveillance on behalf of Hezbollah, according to the military.

Golani Brigade soldiers arrived at the scene to detain the suspect — a Syrian national — firing their guns into the air to warn him to stop. The man, who was unarmed, allegedly behaved suspiciously and one of the troops opened fire at him, seriously injuring him, according to the IDF. The man received treatment for his wounds in Haifa’s Rambam Medical Center before being sent back to Lebanon on June 2.

In April, Israel accused the Iran-backed Hezbollah of being responsible for vandalizing portions of the security fence along the border — which was seen in Israel as a threat — and Foreign Minister Israel Katz instructed the Foreign Ministry to file a complaint at the UN Security Council.

Also in April, IDF troops and Lebanese army soldiers faced off near the border in a highly irregular incident, with photos from the scene showing the two sides raising weapons at each other and UN personnel standing in between.

Israel has fought two wars in Lebanon, one in 1982 against Palestinian terrorists and one in 2006 against the Lebanese Hezbollah, as well as numerous operations against terror groups in the country.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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