LEBANON. Beirut: At least 71 people perished when the migrant boat they were aboard sank off the Syrian coast after sailing from Lebanon earlier this week, the Lebanese transport minister said, as search and evacuation operations continued on Friday.
The incident marks the deadliest of any such voyage yet from Lebanon, where mounting economic desperation has compelled many Lebanese citizens to risk the perilous voyage across the Syrian coast in often rickety and overcrowded boats in the hope of reaching Europe.
Syrian authorities have launched a meticulous and thorough search program to find deceased bodies off the coast of Tartus on Thursday afternoon.
The Syrian transport ministry has cited survivors saying the boat left from Lebanon’s northern Minyeh region on Tuesday with around 120 to 150 people, bound for Europe.
Lebanese transport minister Ali Hamiye said 20 survivors were currently being treated in Syrian hospitals, the bulk of them Syrians, around 1 million of whom live in Lebanon as refugees.
The vessel’s collapse could be attributed to the fact that it was “very small” and made of wood, according to Hamiye, who described such flaws as commonplace for those desperate and unconcerned about life and safety at sea.
Samer Qubrusli, the Syrian director-general of ports, said rescue efforts were continuing on Friday.
These dangerous voyages are fuelled by Lebanon’s financial downfall- one of the worst recorded in modern history.
The 6.5 million population in the country is on the brink of ultimate economic breakdown, as poverty rates have shot through the roof.
Cyprus scrambled search and rescue crews late on Monday and Tuesday when in the space of hours two vessels carrying migrants from Lebanon put out distress signals; there were 300 in one vessel, 177 in the other. They were all rescued, the island’s Joint Rescue Coordination Center said.
The Lebanese army said on Wednesday that they had successfully evacuated 55 people on board a malfunctioning boat in the country’s territorial waters and eventually towed the vessel back to safety.
The number of people who have left or tried to leave Lebanon by sea nearly doubled in 2021 from 2020, the United Nations refugee agency told Reuters earlier this month.
It rose again by more than 70% in 2022 compared to last year’s period.
Back in April, a migrant boat that set off from near the northern city of Tripoli sank during an interception by the Lebanese navy off the coast.
About 80 Lebanese, Syrian and Palestinian migrants were on board, of whom some 40 were rescued, seven were confirmed dead, and around 30 officially remain missing.