The Syrian Minister of Health said, on Friday, that at least 77 migrants drowned when a boat they boarded in Lebanon sank off the Syrian coast, in one of the deadliest shipwrecks in the eastern Mediterranean.
Lebanon, which since 2019 has been mired in a financial crisis described by the World Bank as one of the worst in modern times, has become a springboard for illegal immigration, with its citizens joining Syrian and Palestinian refugees demanding to leave their homeland.
About 150 people, mostly Lebanese and Syrians, were on board the small boat that disembarked on Thursday off the Syrian city of Tartus.
Syrian Health Minister Hassan al-Ghubash said in statements to state television from Al-Basel Hospital in Tartous that seventy-seven people were killed, eight of whom are in critical condition.
Among those rescued were five Lebanese, Lebanon’s Transport Minister-designate Ali Hami told AFP.
Tartus is the southernmost of the main ports in Syria, and is located about 50 kilometers north of the port city of Tripoli in northern Lebanon, where the migrants boarded.
“We are dealing with one of the largest rescue operations ever,” Suleiman Khalil, an official at the Syrian transport ministry, told AFP, as the search continued for survivors.
“We cover a large area that extends along the entire Syrian coast,” he said, adding that high waves are hampering their efforts.
The Russian ships were assisting in the search operations, according to the Syrian authorities.
Rana Marei of the Syrian Arab Red Crescent said that the bodies that have been identified will be taken to a border crossing to be handed over to the Lebanese Red Cross.
“Some of the victims’ relatives came from Lebanon… to identify the dead,” said Ahmed Ammar, a health official in Tartous.
Many of the Lebanese boat passengers hail from poor areas in the north of the country, including Tripoli.
“Remember that these people have families they care about and want to make their dreams come true”, European Council of Refugees and Exiles Tweet on Friday.
The city has emerged as a center of illegal immigration, with most migrant boats leaving from its shores.
His brother Ahmed told AFP that among the survivors was Wissam al-Talawi, a Tripoli resident, who was being treated in hospital.
But Ahmed said the bodies of my two daughters Wissam, aged five and nine, were returned to Lebanon where they were buried early Friday morning.
“They left two days ago,” he added.
“(My brother) could not afford his daily expenses or the cost of sending his children to school,” he said, adding that Wissam’s wife and two sons are still missing.
Syrian Arab Red Crescent She posted pictures on her Facebook page Volunteers are shown carrying corpses covered in bags into an ambulance. else video It appears to show volunteers dragging a dead body onto the beach.
Pictures were taken of other rescue workers searching for survivors along the Tartus coast.
At the Arida border crossing between Lebanon and Syria, dozens waited for the bodies to arrive.
Among them were residents of the Nahr al-Bared Palestinian refugee camp north of Tripoli, where some of the dead and missing live.
“I am an old man, but if I had the chance to die at sea, I would rather do it than live a humiliating life in this country,” said someone from the crossing while awaiting news of the disappearance of his nephew and nephew.
Since 2020, Lebanon has seen a rise in the number of migrants using its shores to attempt the perilous crossing in overcrowded boats to reach Europe.
In April, the sinking of an overcrowded migrant boat stalked by the Lebanese navy off the northern coast of Tripoli killed dozens, sparking outrage in the country.
The exact circumstances of this incident remain unclear, with some on board claiming that the Navy rammed their ship, while officials insisted that smugglers made reckless attempts to escape.
Not many bodies were found.
On September 13, the Turkish Coast Guard announced the death of six migrants, including two children, and rescued 73 people trying to reach Europe, off the coast of southwestern Mugla Province.
They reportedly boarded from Tripoli in Lebanon in an attempt to reach Italy.
Most boats departing from Lebanon head to the European Union member island of Cyprus, an island 175 kilometers to the west.
According to the International Organization for Migration (IOM), more than 24,000 migrants have been reported missing in Mediterranean region Since 2014. The group says the central Mediterranean is “the most dangerous migration route known in the world”, with more than 17,000 deaths and disappearances recorded since 2014.
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