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Migrant boat from Lebanon sinks off Syria, over 70 dead

September 22, 2022

It is one of the deadliest incidents since surging numbers of migrants have tried to flee crisis-hit Lebanon by sea to Europe.

Ambulances in the port of Tartous, Syria
Survivors were taken to a hospital in Tartus in SyriaImage: Saleh Sliman via REUTERS

At least 71 people have died after a boat carrying migrants sank off the coast of Syria, Lebanese and Syrian sources said on Friday.

The incident was first reported on Thursday with the death toll being revised several times over the course of the day.

German news agency DPA said that women and children had been found among the 17 bodies that turned up on Friday morning, citing a Syrian medical source.

"They were aiming to reach Europe," a relative of one of the survivors, Ahmad Tilawi, said. He added, "People are desperate. They want to leave Lebanon because the living conditions are unbearable,"

What do we know?

Samer Qubrusli, the Syrian director-general of ports, cited survivors saying the boat had "left Lebanon days ago."

One survivor said the boat had been carrying over 150 people.

Syria's health ministry said 20 survivors were being treated in Al-Basel hospital in Tartus.

Most of the migrants were Lebanese and Syrians, and some were without identification papers.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported on Friday morning that the death toll had reached at least 51 after the boat capsized opposite the island of Arwad off the Syrian city of Tartus.

Lebanese Transport Minster Ali Hamiye said later in the day that the death toll had surpassed 70.

Migrants desperate to reach Europe

This was one of the deadliest incidents since many Lebanese, Syrians and Palestinians have tried to flee crisis-hit Lebanon for Europe.

Lebanon has been in the grips of a severe economic meltdown since late 2019 that has forced over three-quarters of the population into poverty.

Some of its 6 million-strong population, which includes 1 million Syrian refugees, have risked the dangerous sea route to try and reach Europe.

In April, six people died when an overcrowded migrant boat pursued by the Lebanese navy sank off Lebanon's northern coast of Tripoli.

In September, Turkey's coastguard announced the death of six migrants, including two babies, 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 a bid to reach Italy.

ab,lo/ar, aw (AP, AFP, dpa, Reuters)