Lebanon’s northern region has been transformed into a trafficking hub for migrants looking to escape the country on “death boats” that sail across the Mediterranean nation’s open waters.
Smuggling migrants has become an organized and profitable crime pursued by Lebanese, Syrian and Palestinian nationals. Lebanese authorities, with their modest capabilities, cannot fully put an end to the illegal activity.
Authorities cannot face the overwhelming volume of repeated smuggling operations that take place daily. Additionally, authorities must deal with misleading mechanisms used by smugglers.
The tragedy of the boat that sank off the Syrian coast on Thursday and resulted in dozens of deaths has pressed for opening the file of illegal migration that departs from Lebanon.
“It is no longer a matter of individual operations,” a security source told Asharq Al-Awsat, adding that the matter has snowballed into a “cross-border organized operation.”
Observers point out to the difficulty of knowing how many people are trying to make the voyage across Lebanese waters.
“We get lost whenever we try to figure out who rode on which boat,” observers noted, adding that the process of keeping up with the smugglers has become a “complicated process.”
Describing the northern Lebanese coasts as a “staging platform” has become a term agreed upon by politicians, security personnel, and observers of this file as migrant boats continue to frequently depart from Lebanese shores.
While authorities sometimes succeed in thwarting escape attempts, some smugglers manage to reach their destination which is usually either Italy, Greece, or Cyprus.
Local sources in Lebanon’s northern city of Tripoli told Asharq Al-Awsat that migrant smuggling operations “are taking place in an escalating manner.”
“In the beginning, the boats were small fishing boats carrying twenty or thirty people, but now the situation has changed, and each trip carries more than fifty people,” explained the sources.