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Lebanese navy rescues ‘illegal’ boat carrying migrants from crisis-ridden country

PM Mikati’s office says authorities to launch an investigation into latest case of desperate citizens — mostly Lebanese, Syrian and Palestinian — attempting to flee to Europe

Illustrative: Migrants from Eritrea, Egypt, Syria and Sudan, wait to be assisted by aid workers of the Spanish NGO Open Arms, after fleeing Libya on board a precarious wooden boat in the Mediterranean sea, about 110 miles north of Libya, on January 2, 2021. (AP Photo/Joan Mateu)
Illustrative: Migrants from Eritrea, Egypt, Syria and Sudan, wait to be assisted by aid workers of the Spanish NGO Open Arms, after fleeing Libya on board a precarious wooden boat in the Mediterranean sea, about 110 miles north of Libya, on January 2, 2021. (AP Photo/Joan Mateu)

BEIRUT — Lebanon’s navy rescued a boat carrying migrants that had left the country heading west across the Mediterranean but broke down off the coast, the prime minister’s office said Saturday.

It was the latest case of desperate people — mostly Lebanese, Syrians and Palestinians — sailing toward European Union member Cyprus, and sometimes Turkey, seeking to escape Lebanon’s worsening economic meltdown. Some 75 percent of the country now lives in poverty.

Lebanon Prime Minister Najib Mikati’s office said the migrants had left Lebanon illegally, and that the navy was towing the boat shoreward. It did not say how many migrants were aboard, but said some were children.

It added that there would be an investigation into the incident. Smugglers in Lebanon have made a business out of selling passage to Europe for thousands of dollars per person.

On Friday, the Internal Security Forces stormed a beach resort in the northern town of Qalamoun, where they foiled an attempt to smuggle 82 men, women, and children to Europe. Police said that passengers had paid $5,000 per person, and that they had detained one of the smugglers.

EU-member Cyprus is approximately 107 miles (172 kilometers) from the northern city of Tripoli, Lebanon’s second-largest city.

Last year, several Lebanese citizens drowned in the Mediterranean while trying to reach Europe. Hundreds have been rescued since Lebanon’s economic crisis began in late 2019.

Tens of thousands have lost their jobs in the crisis, which has seen the local currency lose more than 90% of its value. The World Bank says Lebanon’s economic crisis is among the worst the world has witnessed in over a century.

Lebanon is home to six million people, including a million Syrian refugees.

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