76 dead after migrant boat sinks off Syrian coast

76 dead after migrant boat sinks off Syrian coast

Lebanon's transport minister said at least 76 people are dead after the migrant boat they were on sank off the Syrian coast after sailing from Lebanon this week.

It marks the deadliest voyage yet from Lebanon, where mounting economic desperation has led many to board rickety and overcrowded boats in hopes of reaching Europe.

On Thursday afternoon, Syrian authorities found bodies off the coast of Tartus.

The Syrian transport ministry said survivors said the boat left Lebanon's northern Minyeh region on Tuesday with between 120 and 150 people on board, bound for Europe.

Around 45 children were reported to be on the boat, none of whom had survived, according to Lebanese Transport Mminister Ali Hamiye, though he could not confirm the number.

Hamiye said 20 survivors were being treated in Syrian hospitals, the bulk of which are Syrians.

The boat was very small and made of wood, according to Mr Hamiye.

He described such sailings as an almost daily occurrence, organised by people who did not care for safety.

The family of Mustafa Misto, a Lebanese man who was on the boat with his wife and three young children, accepted condolences at their apartment in the impoverished Bab Al-Ramel neighbourhood of Tripoli.

We have no one but God, an elderly relative cried as mourners paid their respects.

People who feared their relatives were among the dead gathered at the border crossing with Syria to await the bodies.

Dozens of people on the boat came from the Nahr al-Bared camp for Palestinian refugees near Tripoli, Mahmoud Abu Heid, a camp resident said.

Already difficult living conditions for Palestinians had worsened during the economic crisis that has devastated Lebanon for the last three years, the camp resident said.

Poverty rates have risen among the population of some 6.5 million.

Cyprus scrambled for rescue and rescue crews late on Monday and Tuesday when two vessels carrying migrants from Lebanon put out distress signals, there were 300 in one vessel, 177 in the other.

All on board were rescued, the Joint Rescue Coordination Center said.

The number of people who have left Lebanon by sea nearly doubled in 2021 from 2020, according to the UN refugee agency earlier this month.

It rose by more than 70 per cent in 2022 compared to the same period last year.

In April a migrant boat that set off from near Tripoli sank during an interception by the Lebanese navy off the coast.

Some 40 were rescued, seven were confirmed dead, and around 30 are still missing, according to about 80 Lebanese, Syrian, and Palestinian migrants on board.