Syria: 73 dead when migrant boat from Lebanon sinks

Syria: 73 dead when migrant boat from Lebanon sinks

At least 73 migrants have drowned off the coast of Syria after their boat from Lebanon sank, the Syrian Health Ministry said on Friday in the deadliest shipwreck from Lebanon in recent years.

This country has increasingly become the launching point for illegal migrant boats since the onset of a severe economic and financial crisis in 2019, caused by decades of mismanagement and corruption by a ruling class that has remained virtually unchanged for decades.

About 150 people, mostly Lebanese and Syrians, were on board the small boat that sank off the port city of Tartus in western Syria on Thursday.

“The death toll from the boat’s sinking has risen to 73, while 20 people are being treated at Al-Basel Hospital (in Tartous),” Health Minister Hassan al-Ghabach said in a statement.

Five Lebanese were among those rescued, Lebanese Transport Minister Ali Hamie previously told AFP.

Efforts to find possible survivors of Thursday’s sinking are still ongoing, Hamie added: “I am discussing a mechanism with the Syrian Minister of Transport to recover the bodies in Syria.”

“We are dealing with one of our largest rescue operations,” Syrian Transport Ministry official Sleiman Khalil told AFP.

“We cover a large area stretching along the entire Syrian coast,” he added, saying high waves made rescue operations difficult.

– Dangerous crossing –

Many Lebanese passengers on the boat are from poor areas in the north of the country, including the city of Tripoli, which is among the poorest in Lebanon. It has become a hub for illegal immigration, with most migrant boats departing from its shores.

Among the survivors, Wissam al-Talawi, a father who lives in Tripoli and is originally from Akkar, another poor region in north Lebanon, was hospitalized, his brother Ahmad told AFP.

The bodies of his two daughters, aged five and nine, were flown back to Lebanon and buried on Friday, Ahmad said. Mr Talawi’s wife and two sons are still missing.

“They left two days ago,” Ahmad revealed. My brother “couldn’t cover his daily expenses or his children’s school fees.”

Other relatives of the missing told AFP news agency that they went to the Lebanese-Syrian border to get information about the fate of the migrants.

After Lebanon’s economic collapse, Syrian and Palestinian refugees, as well as Lebanese, attempted to cross the Mediterranean Sea in makeshift boats to reach European countries, including the island of Cyprus, 175 kilometers from the Lebanese coast.

In April, the sinking of an overloaded migrant boat being pursued by the Lebanese Navy off Tripoli (north) killed dozens and provoked great anger in the crisis-ridden country.

On September 13, the Turkish Coast Guard reported the deaths of six migrants, including two babies, and rescued 73 people trying to reach Europe off Mugla province in south-west Turkey. These migrants would have been embarked from the Lebanese port of Tripoli.

According to the United Nations, at least 38 boats carrying more than 1,500 people have left Lebanon illegally or attempted to leave Lebanon by sea since 2020.


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