Lebanese authorities have rescued 47 people following the sinking of a boat off the coast of Lebanon’s northern port city of Tripoli, according to the military on Sunday.
A boat carrying illegal migrants sank on Saturday after leaving the Qalamoun area, south of Tripoli.
A military statement said that naval forces had recovered the dead bodies from nine migrants from the boat, including a child.
The statement said the boat had capsized as water leaked into it due to overloading.
Lebanese authorities said that the boat was carrying over 70 people when it capsized.
The Lebanese army said efforts were still ongoing to rescue those still missing.
According to the military statement, one person was arrested in connection with the boat sinking.
Illegal migration from Lebanon and Syria to European countries increased in recent years due to unprecedented deterioration of economic and living conditions and the rise of poverty rates.
Lebanon has been grappling with a severe economic crisis since late 2019, including a massive currency depreciation as well as fuel and medical shortages.
According to UNHCR, at least 1,570 individuals, including 186 Lebanese nationals, had embarked or tried to embark on illicit sea journeys from Lebanon between January and November 2021.
Anger grows in Tripoli
The latest incident stoked public anger in Tripoli, Lebanon’s second city and one of its poorest.
Growing poverty and unemployment rates have turned Tripoli into a launch pad for migrants.
Calls circulated on social media networks for protests outside the Tripoli home of Prime Minister Najib Mikati, who declared Monday a day of national mourning to grieve the victims.
The relatives of the victims and the missing lashed out at the country’s leaders.
“Even when we are trying to run away from the filth of politicians and their corruption … death catches up with us,” Nissrine Merheb, who hasn’t heard from her two cousins and their three children since they embarked on the deadly voyage, told AFP.
Lebanon, a country of about six million people, is grappling with an unprecedented financial crisis that the World Bank says is on a scale usually associated with wars.
Its currency has lost more than 90 percent of its purchasing power and the majority of the population lives below the poverty line.
The United Nations refugee agency says at least 1,570 people, 186 of them Lebanese, left or tried to leave by sea from Lebanon between January and November 2021.
Most were hoping to reach European Union member state Cyprus, an island 175km (109 miles) away. This is up from 270 passengers, including 40 Lebanese, recorded in 2019.
Most of those trying to leave Lebanon by sea are Syrian refugees, but Lebanese nationals have increasingly joined them.
Sitting on a bench on Tripoli’s coast, Bilal Moussa, 34, was watching the giant waves that almost swallowed him in November.
Taking a long drag from a cigarette, the father of three said he would try again.
“There is no future here, not for us and not for our children,” said Moussa, who quit his supermarket job because his monthly salary of $55 barely paid for his commute.
In September, Moussa decided to attempt the sea voyage to Italy.
He sold his car and borrowed $1,500 from a friend to cover the $4,000 for the trip.
On November 19, Moussa packed a small duffel bag and left his home in the Dinniyeh region without even telling his wife.
When he reached the Tripoli meeting point, he found around 90 passengers clambering onto a truck that would drive them to the Qalamoun region from where they would depart.
They included 15 Palestinians and 10 Syrians, while the rest were Lebanese.
“We had 35 children on board, and around 20 women,” he said.
Two hours after the 18-meter (60-foot) craft set sail, a navy boat took chase and ordered the captain back.
Their overcrowded craft started taking on water from the wake of the patrol boat, but the captain sped off and lost his tail after an hour-long white-knuckle chase.
The next terrifying moment came when the engine broke down and the boat started to sink, in the dark.
Panicked passengers started throwing suitcases and fuel tanks overboard.
Moussa and others contacted relatives back home to send help, which arrived several hours later.
A Lebanese army ship came and towed them back ashore, where passengers were interrogated and then released.
“I felt defeated because I came back, because I didn’t make it,” Moussa said.
“But I am going to leave again… We have no path ahead but the sea.”