Death toll from sinking of Lebanon boat rises to 94

[25-09-2022 09:51 AM]

Ammon News - The death toll from a boat that sank off the Syrian coast after sailing from Lebanon earlier this week has risen to 94, Syrian state TV said on Saturday.

The country’s transport ministry has quoted survivors as saying the boat left Lebanon’s northern Minyeh region on Tuesday bound for Europe with between 120 and 150 people onboard.

Filippo Grandi, the UN high commissioner for refugees, described the incident as a “heart-wrenching tragedy”.

At least 14 people rescued were recovering in hospitals in Syria, while six others were discharged and two remained in intensive care, Syria’s official Sana news agency reported. As search efforts continued, several people were still missing since the boat sank on Thursday.

“The death toll … has risen to 94,” state television said.

The Lebanese army said it had arrested a Lebanese national who “admitted to organising the recent [people] smuggling operation from Lebanon to Italy by sea”.

As many as 150 people were onboard the small boat, which sank off the Syrian port of Tartus, 30 miles (about 50km) north of Tripoli in Lebanon, from where it set sail.

Those onboard were mostly Lebanese, Syrians and Palestinians and included children and the elderly, the UN said. Unicef said 10 children appeared to be among the dead.

Families in Lebanon held a second day of funerals on Saturday after they were handed bodies of relatives on Friday night through the Arida border crossing with Syria. Others still await the bodies of their relatives.

In Tripoli, anger mixed with grief as relatives received news of the death of loved ones. Hundreds of people gathered on Saturday in the Nahr al-Bared Palestinian refugee camp, north of Tripoli, for the funeral procession of one of the victims, pumping their fists in the air.

The number of people who left or tried to leave Lebanon by sea nearly doubled between 2020 and 2021, the UN refugee agency told Reuters earlier this month. The figure rose again by more than 70% in 2022.

The increase has been fuelled by Lebanon’s financial collapse as poverty rates have soared among the population of 6.5 million.

Philippe Lazzarini, the head of the UN agency for Palestinian refugees, said: “No one gets on these death boats lightly.

“People are taking this perilous decision, risking their lives in search of dignity.”

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