Scores of deaths in worst Lebanon migrant boat sink in recent years | refugees

At least 73 people have drowned after the migrant boat they sank on in Lebanon sank off the coast of Syria, the deadliest shipwreck from Lebanon in recent years.

The country, mired in a financial crisis since 2019 that the World Bank has described as one of the worst in modern times, has become a launching pad for illegal migration, with its own citizens joining Syrian and Palestinian refugees clamoring for to leave the country.

Syrian state television quoted Health Minister Mohammed Hassan Ghabbash as saying that 73 people had died and 20 people had been rescued alive.

Lebanon’s Transport Minister Ali Hamie said more than 100 people, mostly Lebanese and Syrians, were on board the small boat that sank in the Mediterranean Sea off the Syrian city of Tartus on Thursday. Syrian authorities said there were about 150 passengers on board.

Of the rescued, five were Lebanese, he said, adding: “I am discussing with the Syrian transport minister a mechanism to get the bodies out of Syria.”

Tartus is the southernmost of Syria’s major ports. It is about 50 kilometers north of the northern Lebanese port city of Tripoli, where the passengers had boarded.

Wissam al-Tlawi from Lebanon’s northern Akkar region was one of the survivors and was treated in hospital, his brother Ahmad said.

Wissam’s two daughters, ages five and nine, died in the sinking. Their bodies had been returned to Lebanon, where they were buried early Friday, Ahmad said.

Wissam’s wife and two sons were still missing, he said. “They left two days ago. My brother could not afford his daily expenses, or the cost of enrolling his children in school.”

Relatives of others on board the boat said they had gone to the Syrian border to get information about their relatives.

The number of migrants using the coasts of Lebanon to make the perilous crossing to Europe in crowded boats increased last year.

Dozens of people died in April in the sinking of an overcrowded migrant boat chased by the Lebanese navy off the coast of Tripoli, sparking anger in the country.

The circumstances of the incident were not entirely clear. Some on board said the navy had rammed their ship, but officials said the smugglers had attempted reckless escape maneuvers. Many of the bodies were never recovered.

The Turkish coastguard announced the deaths of six migrants, including two babies, earlier this month and rescued 73 people earlier this month trying to reach Europe off the coast of southwestern Mugla province.

They had reportedly boarded in Tripoli in an attempt to reach Italy.

Most boats departing from Lebanon go to Cyprus, an EU member state located 110 miles to the west.

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