Syria’s health minister said on Friday that at least 77 migrants drowned after a boat capsized off the Syrian coast in Lebanon, one of the deadliest such ships in the eastern Mediterranean.
Lebanon, which has been mired in a financial crisis branded by the World Bank as one of the worst in modern times since 2019, has become a launchpad for illegal migration, joining its own civilian Syrian and Palestinian refugees. are struggling to leave their homeland.
About 150 people, mostly Lebanese and Syrians, were on board the small boat that crashed Thursday off the Syrian city of Tartus.
“Seventy people have died,” Syrian Health Minister Hassan al-Ghabash told state television from the al-Basel hospital in Tartus.
Five of those rescued were Lebanese, Lebanese’s acting transport minister Ali Hami told AFP.
Tartus is the southernmost of Syria’s main ports, and is located about 50 kilometers north of the northern Lebanese port city of Tripoli, where the migrants boarded.
“We are dealing with one of the biggest rescue operations we have ever carried out,” Sliman Khalil, an official in Syria’s transport ministry, told AFP.
“We are covering a large area that extends across the Syrian coast,” he said, adding that high waves were hindering his efforts.
According to Syrian officials, Russian ships are assisting in the search operation.
Rana Meri of the Syrian Arab Red Crescent said the identified bodies would be taken to a border crossing to be handed over to the Lebanese Red Cross.
“Some relatives of the victims had come from Lebanon… to identify the dead,” Tartus health official Ahmed Ammar said.
Many of the boat’s Lebanese passengers come from poor areas in the north of the country, including Tripoli.
European Refugee Council tweeted on Friday,
The city has emerged as an illegal migration hub, with most migrant boats departing from its shores.
Among the survivors was Tripoli resident Wissam al-Talawi, who was being treated in a hospital, his brother Ahmed told AFP.
But the bodies of Wissam’s two daughters, aged five and nine, were returned to Lebanon, where they were buried early Friday, Ahmed said.
“They left two days ago,” he said.
“(My brother) could not afford his daily expenses, or enrolling his children in school,” he said, adding that Wissam’s wife and two sons are still missing.
Syrian Arab Red Crescent Publish images on your Facebook page Showing volunteers carrying corpses covered in bags in an ambulance. another Video Volunteers were shown dragging a lifeless body to the beach.
Other rescuers were pictured searching for survivors off the coast of Tartus.
Across the Arida border between Lebanon and Syria, dozens of dead bodies waited for arrival.
They included residents of the Palestinian refugee camp in Nahar al-Bared, north of Tripoli, which is home to some of the dead and missing.
One of them said as the awaited news of the disappearance of his niece and nephew from the crossing said, “I am an old man, but if I had a chance to die at sea I would rather do so than live a humiliating life in this country.” “
Since 2020, Lebanon has seen an increase in the number of migrants using its shores to attempt dangerous crossings in jam-packed boats to reach Europe.
In April, dozens of people were killed when an overcrowded migrant boat chased by the Lebanese Navy sank off the northern coast of Tripoli, sparking anger in the country.
The exact circumstances of that incident are still unclear, with some claiming the Navy hit their ship, while officials insisted that the smugglers made reckless attempts to escape.
Many bodies were never recovered.
On 13 September, the Turkish Coast Guard announced the deaths of six migrants, including two children, and rescued 73 people trying to reach Europe off the coast of the southwestern province of Mugla.
They had reportedly boarded from Tripoli in Lebanon in an attempt to reach Italy.
Most boats leave from Lebanon for EU member Cyprus, an island about 175 kilometers to the west.
According to the International Organization for Migration (IOM), more than 24,000 missing migrants have been reported Mediterranean region Since 2014. The group says the Central Mediterranean is “the deadliest known migration route in the world”, with more than 17,000 deaths and disappearances recorded since 2014.