BEIRUT, Lebanon – Lebanese security forces said Monday they had arrested two Syrian nationals previously based in Libya who were involved in smuggling people from the North African country to Europe.
The men were arrested in Lebanon’s east, an area near the Syrian border, after they entered the country irregularly, Lebanon’s Internal Security Forces said in a statement.
The pair were part of a network that smuggled “hundreds” of people including “Syrians, Lebanese, Egyptians, Palestinians” and others of unspecified African nationalities from Libya to Europe by boat, the statement added.
They admitted to asking $3,500 per person and to organising boat trips towards Italy and Greece.
A boat they had arranged “sank off the coast of the Libyan city of Tobruk” in the country’s east, resulting in “dozens of deaths”, according to the statement, and the duo subsequently fled Libya for Syria.
One of the duo worked with his brothers in Libya and Greece, the statement said, adding that the men had accomplices “in Lebanon’s Wadi Khaled area”, a key location for irregular crossings from Syria.
Libya is a major gateway for migrants and asylum seekers attempting perilous sea voyages in often rickety boats in the hope of a better life in Europe.
The central Mediterranean route has been dubbed the world’s deadliest sea crossing for migrants.
Lebanese authorities have ramped up efforts to confront irregular migration, and say they have prevented thousands of illegal crossings through Lebanon’s porous border with Syria in recent weeks.
They often announce they have thwarted smuggling operations by sea or the arrest of both smugglers and would-be migrants.
Lebanon’s economy collapsed in late 2019, turning the country into a launchpad for migrants. Lebanese nationals have increasingly been making the treacherous voyage towards Europe alongside Syrians fleeing war and economic woes in their country, as well as Palestinian refugees.
Migrants seeking to reach Europe from Lebanon generally head for the east Mediterranean island of Cyprus less than 200 kilometres (124 miles) away.