Families mourn as death toll from sunken migrant boat in Lebanon rises to 94

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The death toll from a migrant boat that sank off the coast of Syria after leaving Lebanon earlier this week has risen to 94, after more bodies were recovered on Syria’s coast of Baniyas on the Mediterranean , Syrian state television reported on Saturday.

The sinking marks the deadliest voyage of its kind from Lebanon, where growing economic desperation has led many to board often rickety and overcrowded boats in the hope of reaching Europe.

Syrian authorities began finding bodies off the city of Tartous on Thursday afternoon. The Syrian Transport Ministry quoted survivors as saying the boat set off on Tuesday from the Miniyeh region in northern Lebanon with between 120 and 150 people on board, bound for Europe.

There would be around 45 children on the boat, none of whom survived, Lebanese Transport Minister Ali Hamieh said on Friday, without being able to confirm the number.

A mourner reacts to the coffin of a 24-year-old Palestinian man during a funeral procession in Tripoli, Lebanon on Saturday. He was held for Abdul-Al Omar Abdul-Al, who was on the boat carrying migrants from Lebanon when it sank in Syrian waters. (Bilal Hussein/Associated Press)

The family of Mustafa Misto, a Lebanese man who was on the boat with his wife and three young children, were accepting condolences at their apartment in the poor neighborhood of Bab Al-Ramel in the northern city of Tripoli.

“We have no one but God,” an elderly parent shouted as mourners paid their respects.

The mother of Mustafa Misto, a Lebanese man who – along with his wife and three young children – was on the sinking boat, walks with the help of men in the northern city of Tripoli on Friday. (Mohamed Azakir/Reuters)

People who feared their relatives were among the dead gathered at the border crossing with Syria, waiting for the bodies.

Dozens of people on the boat came from the Palestinian refugee camp of Nahr al-Bared near Tripoli, said Mahmoud Abu Heid, a resident of the camp. The already difficult living conditions of Palestinians have worsened during the economic crisis, which has devastated Lebanon for three years, he added.

Syrian hospitals treat survivors

Hamieh said 20 survivors were being treated in Syrian hospitals, most of them Syrians – among the estimated one million living in Lebanon as refugees.

The transport minister said the boat was “very small” and made of wood, describing such crossings as an almost daily occurrence organized by people who do not care about safety.

A relative of a man who was on board the migrant boat reacts near his body at the Lebanese-Syrian border crossing in Arida on Friday. (Mohamed Azakir/Reuters)

The wave of such trips has been fueled by Lebanon’s financial collapse over the past three years – one of the worst on record anywhere in the world. Poverty rates have soared among the population of some 6.5 million.

Cyprus dispatched search and rescue teams late Monday and Tuesday when within hours two ships carrying migrants from Lebanon sent out distress signals; there were 300 in one ship, 177 in the other. In those cases, all on board were rescued, the island’s Joint Rescue Coordination Center said.

The number of people who left or attempted to leave Lebanon by sea nearly doubled in 2021 compared to 2020, the UN refugee agency told Reuters earlier this month.

It has further increased by more than 70% in 2022 compared to the same period last year.

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

Around 80 Lebanese, Syrian and Palestinian migrants were on board, of whom around 40 were rescued, seven were confirmed dead and around 30 are officially missing.

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