UN peacekeepers rescue 36 migrants outside Lebanese waters

AP , Monday 14 Sep 2020

The UN peacekeeping force in Lebanon said it rescued on Monday 36 people onboard a ship carrying migrants outside Lebanon's territorial waters.

The force, known as UNIFIL, said there were 37 migrants on the ship but that one had died by the time the peacekeepers rescued the migrants. The statement did not give a cause of death.

It did not say where the ship was heading. Some Lebanese have been trying to flee the tiny Mediterranean nation lately, after Lebanon has been shaken by multiple crises, including its worst economic and financial crisis in decades.

Tens of thousands have lost jobs over the past year while the local currency, the Lebanese pound, lost nearly 80% of its value, plunging half the country's population into poverty.

The survivors were being provided immediate medical assistance on board the UNIFIL Maritime Task Force vessel before being transferred to the Lebanese authorities, the UN force said. It added that UNIFIL's ship was en route toward the Port of Beirut.

Last week, authorities in Cyprus said they were alarmed over the arrival of four boats carrying Syrian and Lebanese migrants in waters off its coastline. European Union member Cyprus and Lebanon have an agreement to prevent migrants from reaching the island nation.

Lebanon, a country of 5 million people, is also home to nearly 1 million Syrian refugees, as well as tens of thousands of Palestinians.

Over the past years, hundreds of thousands of Syrian refugees have fled their country's civil war, seeking sanctuary in EU countries. Most of the Syrians have made it to Europe through Turkey.

Lebanese naval forces have in the past prevented ships carrying migrants from leaving Lebanon but the force has been overwhelmed since the Aug. 4 explosion at Beirut's port that killed at least 190 and injured thousands. Much of the port was destroyed.

UNIFIL's commander Maj. Gen. Stefano Del Col said the peacekeepers ``are doing their utmost to save the lives of these people`` and that their ``priority is to ensure the safety of all the 36 people we have just rescued.''

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