Sep 23, 2022 - World

Over 70 people fleeing Lebanon die after boat sinks off Syrian coast

Ambulances wait for the arrival of Lebanese and Palestinian bodies who drowned when a boat carrying migrants sank off the Syrian coas
Ambulances at the Syrian-Lebanonese boder wait for the arrival of bodies who drowned when a boat carrying migrants sank off the Syrian coast. Photo: Marwan Naamani/picture alliance via Getty Images

At least 75 people, including children, fleeing Lebanon to Europe were killed when their boat sank off the Syrian coast this week, Lebanon's transportation minister said on Friday.

The big picture: The incident marks one of the deadliest migrant sea tragedies for a boat leaving Lebanon in years. The country, which hosts a large number of Syrian and Palestinian refugees, continues to reel from an economic crisis that has pushed more than three-quarters of the population into poverty.

  • The crisis has also caused more and more people in Lebanon to take perilous journeys in hopes of reaching Europe.
  • "If I get the chance, I will leave. If there is a boat here right now, I will get on it with my two children," one man in Lebanon told Al Jazeera following this week's disaster.

Driving the news: The boat, which was carrying Syrians, Lebanese and Palestinians, was heading to Europe when it sank earlier this week.

  • It is unclear exactly how many people were on board, and Syrian officials fear the death toll could be much higher, per AP. Some survivors told reporters that the boat was carrying between 120-150 people.
  • Syrian state TV quoted Hassan Ghabbash, the country's health minister, as saying 20 people had been rescued, AP reports.

What they're saying: “This is yet another heart-wrenching tragedy and we extend our deepest condolences to all those impacted,” Filippo Grandi, the UN high commissioner for refugees, said in a statement on Friday.

  • “We call for full solidarity from the international community to help improve the conditions of forcibly displaced people and host communities in the Middle East, particularly in countries neighboring Syria. Too many people are being pushed to the brink.”
  • UNHCR, the International Organization for Migration and the UN Palestinian refugee agency (UNRWA) called on countries in the region to "increase efforts to build their capacity to provide search and rescue services and to work to ensure predictability in identifying safe places of disembarkation."
  • The groups added, however, "is even more critical that action be taken to address the root causes of these movements and for the international community, in line with the principle of responsibility-sharing, to strengthen access to safer, alternative pathways to stop people resorting to dangerous journeys."

State of play: Lebanon has seen a surge of people leaving the country since its economic meltdown began in late 2019.

  • The number of people who left or tried to leave by sea almost doubled in 2021 from the previous year, the UN refugee agency told Reuters in early September.
  • Dozens were killed in April when a migrant boat from Lebanon sank off the coast of Tripoli following a confrontation with the Lebanese navy, per AP.

Go deeper: Lebanon crisis having "grave consequences" for children's health, UNICEF warns

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