At least 77 people were killed when the boat carrying migrants from Lebanon capsized, the country’s health minister said, amid fears the death toll could be far higher.
Among the dead were Palestinians, Syrians and Lebanese attempting to flee crisis-hit Lebanon, to reach Cyprus by sea for a better future in Europe.
Around twenty migrants who managed to survive the shipwreck are now being cared for in Syria.
The Syrian government had previously said that 20 survivors were being treated in Basel hospital in Tartous.
The Syrian transport ministry cited survivors as saying the boat left from Lebanon’s northern Minyeh region on Tuesday with between 120 and 150 people onboard.
Samer Qubrusli, the Syrian director general of ports, said search operations were ongoing on Friday. He had previously said that rough seas and strong winds had made the rescue operation difficult.
Thursday’s accident appeared to be the deadliest to date in the ongoing wave of sea migration from Lebanon that has accelerated over the last few years as the country suffers from a catastrophic financial collapse.
Desperate to flee
Despite the agony felt by families of the victims, some people in Lebanon say they would still be willing to make such perilous journies to escape the conditions in the region.
“They reached a point where they wanted to die at sea”, said Salim Khalaf, whose brother and cousin are still missing. “If the boat came here now I would go. I would go.”
Tens of thousands have lost their jobs while the Lebanese pound has dropped more than 90% in value, eradicating the purchasing power of thousands of families that now live in extreme poverty.
Thousands of Lebanese, Syrians and Palestinians have left Lebanon on boats over the past months seeking better opportunities in Europe.
Lebanon has a population of six million, including one million Syrian refugees, and has been in the grips of a severe economic meltdown since late 2019 that has pulled more than three-quarters of the population into poverty.
The value of the local currency has been decimated, leaving three-quarters of the population living in poverty, according to the United Nations.
Since late 2019, Lebanon has been witnessing an economic crisis ranked by the World Bank as one of the three worst crises in the world since the middle of the nineteenth century, where the crisis led to financial and living collapse and a shortage of fuel, energy and other basic commodities.
Global Rights Watch called on the international community to establish a balanced approach to dealing with both regular and irregular immigration, stressing the urgent need for a comprehensive immigration policy, based on solidarity and justice.