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BSS
  23 Sep 2022, 20:58

77 dead in migrant shipwreck off Syria after leaving Lebanon

     DAMASCUS, Sept  23, 2022 (BSS/AFP) - At least 77 migrants drowned when a 
boat they boarded in Lebanon sank off Syria's coast, Syria's health minister 
said Friday, in one of the deadliest such shipwrecks in the eastern 
Mediterranean.

       Lebanon, which since 2019 has been mired in a financial crisis branded by 
the World Bank as one of the worst in modern times, has become a launchpad for 
illegal migration, with its own citizens joining Syrian and Palestinian 
refugees clamouring to leave their homeland.

       Around 150 people, mostly Lebanese and Syrians, were on board the small 
boat that went down Thursday off the Syrian city of Tartus.

       "Seventy-seven people have died," Syria's Health Minister Hassan al-Ghabash 
told state television from Al-Basel hospital in Tartus, where he said 20 
survivors were being treated, including eight in critical condition.

       Of those rescued, five were Lebanese, Lebanon's caretaker transport 
minister Ali Hamie told AFP.

       Tartus is the southernmost of Syria's main ports, and lies some 50 
kilometres (30 miles) north of the northern Lebanese port city of Tripoli, 
where the migrants had boarded.

       "We are dealing with one of our largest ever rescue operations," Sleiman 
Khalil, an official at Syria's transport ministry told AFP, as the search for 
survivors continued.

       "We are covering a large area that extends along the entire Syrian coast," 
he said, adding that high waves were hampering their efforts.
       Russian ships were assisting in search operations, according to Syrian 
authorities.
       
       - 'Identify the dead' -
       
       Rana Merhi of the Syrian Arab Red Crescent said identified bodies would be 
transported to a border crossing to be handed over to the Lebanese Red Cross.

       "Some of the relatives of the victims came from Lebanon... to identify the 
dead," said Ahmed Ammar, a Tartus health official.

       Many of the boat's Lebanese passengers hail from impoverished regions in 
the country's north, including Tripoli.

       The city has emerged as a illegal migration hub, with most migrant boats 
departing from its shores.

       Among the survivors was Wissam al-Talawi, a Tripoli resident who was being 
treated in hospital, his brother Ahmad told AFP.

       But the corpses of Wissam's two daughters, aged five and nine, had been 
returned to Lebanon where they were buried early Friday, Ahmad said.

       "They left two days ago," he added.

       "(My brother) couldn't afford his daily expenses, or the cost of enrolling 
his children in school," he said, adding that Wissam's wife and two sons were 
still missing.

       The Syrian Arab Red Crescent published images on its Facbeook page showing 
volunteers carrying corpses covered in bags into an ambulance.
       Other rescuers were pictured searching for survivors along the coast of 
Tartus. 
       
       - 'Humiliating life' -
       
       At the Arida border crossing between Lebanon and Syria, dozens waited for 
corpses to arrive.

       They included residents of the Palestinian refugee camp of Nahr al-Bared 
north of Tripoli -- which is home to some of the dead and missing.

       "I am an old man but if I had the chance to die at sea I would rather do 
that than lead a humiliating life in this country," one of them said from the 
crossing as awaited news of his missing niece and nephew.

       Since 2020, Lebanon has seen a spike in the number of migrants using its 
shores to attempt the perilous crossing in jam-packed boats to reach Europe.

       In April, the sinking of an overcrowded migrant boat pursued by the 
Lebanese navy off the northern coast of Tripoli killed dozens of people, 
sparking anger in the country.

       The exact circumstances of that incident are still unclear, with some on 
board claiming the navy rammed their vessel, while officials insisted the 
smugglers made reckless bids to escape.

       Many of the bodies were never recovered.

       On September 13, 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 an attempt to reach 
Italy.
       Most of the boats setting off from Lebanon head for European Union member 
Cyprus, an island about 175 kilometres to the west.


 

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