73 dead in migrant shipwreck off Syria after leaving Lebanon
Agencies | Damascus
The Daily Tribune – www.newsofbahrain.com
At least 77 migrants drowned when a boat they boarded in Lebanon sank off Syria’s coast, Syria’s health minister said yesterday, in one of the deadliest such shipwrecks in the eastern Mediterranean. Lebanon, which since 2019 has been mired in a financial crisis branded by the World Bank as one of the worst in modern times, has become a launchpad for illegal migration, with its own citizens joining Syrian and Palestinian refugees clamouring to leave their homeland.
Around 150 people, mostly Lebanese and Syrians, were on board the small boat that went down Thursday off the Syrian city of Tartus. “Seventy-seven people have died,” Syria’s Health Minister Hassan al-Ghabash told state television from Al-Basel hospital in Tartus, where he said 20 survivors were being treated, including eight in critical condition. Of those rescued, five were Lebanese, Lebanon’s caretaker transport minister Ali Hamie said.
Tartus is the southernmost of Syria’s main ports, and lies some 50 kilometres north of the northern Lebanese port city of Tripoli, where the migrants had boarded. “We are dealing with one of our largest ever rescue operations,” Sleiman Khalil, an official at Syria’s transport ministry told AFP, as the search for survivors continued.
“We are covering a large area that extends along the entire Syrian coast,” he said, adding that high waves were hampering their efforts. Russian ships were assisting in search operations, according to Syrian authorities. Rana Merhi of the Syrian Arab Red Crescent said identified bodies would be transported to a border crossing to be handed over to the Lebanese Red Cross.
“Some of the relatives of the victims came from Lebanon... to identify the dead,” said Ahmed Ammar, a Tartus health official. Perilous crossing Many of the boat’s Lebanese passengers hail from impoverished regions in the country’s north, including Tripoli.
The city has emerged as a illegal migration hub, with most migrant boats departing from its shores. Among the survivors was Wissam al-Talawi, a Tripoli resident who was being treated in hospital, his brother Ahmad told AFP. But the corpses of Wissam’s two daughters, aged five and nine, had been returned to Lebanon where they were buried early yesterday, Ahmad said. “They left two days ago,” he added.
“(My brother) couldn’t afford his daily expenses, or the cost of enrolling his children in school,” he said, adding that Wissam’s wife and two sons were still missing. The Syrian Arab Red Crescent published images on its Facbeook page showing volunteers carrying corpses covered in bags into an ambulance. Other rescuers were pictured searching for survivors along the coast of Tartus. At the Arida border crossing between Lebanon and Syria, dozens waited for corpses to arrive.
They included residents of the Palestinian refugee camp of Nahr al-Bared north of Tripoli -- which is home to some of the dead and missing. “I am an old man but if I had the chance to die at sea I would rather do that than lead a humiliating life in this country,” one of them said from the crossing as awaited news of his missing niece and nephew.